There is no film star I admire more then the incomparable Fred Astaire and no screen pairing I find more delightful then Astaire and Rogers. Their films are the epitome of 1930s style and stand the test of time beautifully. One of my favorite Astaire and Roger's pairings is 1936's Swing Time, the duo's fifth outing.
The movie represents one of the few times that Astaire and Roger's play more every day folks, rather then the glamorous and successful stage stars they portray in classics like 1935's Top Hat and 1937's Shall We Dance. Astaire is Lucky Garnet a dancer and gifted gambler who falls in love with a local girl, Margaret, when his traveling dance troupe plays his home town.
|Betty Furness played Margaret|
Lucky's dance partners are less then thrilled by the impending marriage of the star performer and set about trying to put an end to the match. In one of the film's best scenes which pokes fun at Astaire's unending devotion to style they convince him that his wedding suit trousers need cuffs.
Held up by altering his trousers and sucked into a bit of gambling Lucky misses his wedding. Margaret and her father are understandably upset but when Lucky convinces them that he was late for the wedding due to an opportunity to earn a good bit of money, Margaret's father says they can marry if Lucky earns 25,000 dollars. With that goal before him Lucky decides to give up dancing and heads to New York to make his fortune as a gambler, his friend Pop, played by Victor Moore, tags along.
|Pop played by Victor Moore on the left chats up Mabel Anderson played by Helen Broderick|
|During the quarter scene Ginger is wearing the most amazing cape jacket. I'm dreaming of having this copied, imagine it with a detachable cape!|
However, Lucky is without the dinner clothes needed for the audition and gambles to win some, but instead winds up losing his own clothes. Penny is furious and Lucky launches a campaign, complete with protest signs, to win her forgiveness:
Eventually he succeeds by singing The Way You Look Tonight which one the Oscar for best song in 1936.
On speaking terms again the duo prepare to audition for the dance club but the band leader, Ricky Romero, is in love with Penny and refuses to play while she dances with another man. Fred gambles with the clubs owner, wins Ricky's contract and the two begin dancing at the club. Meanwhile Penny is falling in love with Lucky, but Lucky who has yet to tell her about Margaret is trying to avoid her. In order to get some time alone with Lucky, Penny and her friend Mabel, the delightful Helen Broderick, cook up a plan to visit the country for the day. This leads to one of Rogers's best most moments in the series when she and Astaire sing the comic duet A Fine Romance:
Usually Fred is the pursuer who falls in love with Ginger at first sight, but what I love about this number is Ginger's Penny is all out to get her man. Plus I really want Ginger's snow gear.
After the trip to the country Lucky has decided to end the relationship with Margaret and pursue a relationship with Penny. Penny meanwhile takes up Mabel's dare to kiss Lucky, smearing lipstick all over his face in the process.
After the film's big kiss, Astaire performs what is probably his most controversial number, Bojangles of Harlem, a dance tribute to Bill "Bo Jangles" Robinson done in black face. It is one of Astaire's most brilliant and technologically complex dances, he dances with three shadows of himself, but since its done in black face it is certainly offensive. However, some dance critics view it as a tribute, and even a clever dance exploration of racism. There is a New York Times article about the number by the dance critic Alistair Macauley that explores this issue. Whatever our feelings about the dance today Astaire apparently meant it is a tribute to a dancer he greatly admired and Robinson was flattered.
After Lucky's big number Margaret returns and Penny walks in on them talking.
Hurt and angry she decides to marry Ricky Ricardo. A broken hearted Lucky sings Never Gonna Dance, declaring that if he can't dance with Penny he wont dance at all. This is one of Astaire and Roger's most beautiful numbers with stunning art deco sets.
Of course since this is an Astaire and Roger's movie everything comes to a happy end. Margaret tells Lucky she has met someone else, Lucky confesses his love for Penny, and with the assistance of Pop and Mabel he brings an end to Penny's impending nuptials and still manages to leave everyone, even the jilted Ricky, smiling: