Old Movie Week: Swing Time (1936)

Fred Astaire (Lucky), Ginger Rogers (Penny), Victor Moore (Pop Cardetti), Helen Broderick (Mabel Anderson)

Directed by George Stevens (Shane)

IMDB: A performer and gambler travels to New York City to raise the $25,000 he needs to marry his fiancée, only to become entangled with a beautiful aspiring dancer.

This week I'm doing reviews for the five old movies I watched earlier this spring in what felt like a single sitting. AMC featured Ginger Rogers as their star of the month, which meant a bazillion Fred & Ginger movies on my DVR. I was also wrapping up a proposal for my WWII romance, so I was also in the mood for Bing Crosby.

Swing Time is my favorite (so far) Fred & Ginger pairing, with tremendous caveats. I like these characters best, with Astaire playing a genuinely likable and happy-go-lucky chap. He was cavalier and dashing, without the least little bit of rancor. Rogers played Penny as a sensible young woman who becomes swept up in the charisma of this skinny stranger, but never did I get the sense that she lost sight of who she was. They fit so well together.

The dance numbers were also incredible, particularly their first duet of the picture, which takes place inside a dance studio. Lucky wants to help Penny keep her job by demonstrating how much she'd "taught" him in just one short lesson. The result is, of course, both comedic and astounding.

The "Bojangles of Harlem" number gets a lot of attention because of its use of blackface, and of course because of Astaire's virtuoso dancing. For my money, however, I couldn't stop re-watching when Fred and Penny say goodbye to one another, both of them engaged to other people. Astaire puts aside his sunny disposition and cheeky humor to dig deep for genuine sincerity. The result is incredibly sexy--the jester who needs to be taken seriously, if just once. The pair then moves into one of their best ever duets, "Never Gonna Dance," which is frustratingly not available on YouTube. WTH?

But seriously, just look at the sexy:
The driving force of the plot, however, rested on whether or not tuxedo trousers should be cuffed. Okay. Everyone laughs a great deal during the last five minutes of the film, which even had the kids asking, "Why won't they stop laughing?" Thus for likable characters and mesmerizing dance numbers, Swing Time is the best. Just don't ask much of the conflict that keeps them apart or the resolution that brings them together.

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