Old Movie Week: Top Hat (1935)

Fred Astaire (Jerry), Ginger Rogers (Dale), Edward Everett Horton (Horace), Helen Broderick (Madge)

Directed by Mark Sandrich (Holiday Inn)

IMDB: Showman Jerry Travers is working for producer Horace Hardwick in London. Jerry demonstrates his new dance steps late one night in Horace's hotel, much to the annoyance of sleeping Dale Tremont below. She goes upstairs to complain and the two are immediately attracted to each other. Complications arise when Dale mistakes Jerry for Horace, who is married.

Oh, wait. Maybe this was my favorite Fred & Ginger movie!

I love mistaken identity films, especially when they are comedic. Shakespeare's comedies are rife with mistaken identity, and part of the entertainment is seeing just how long they can sustain the big misunderstanding. When done well, it's simply hilarious--and Top Hat was done very well. I was in turns frustrated by their constant inability to connect and highly amused. Astaire sold every quirky expression and every cheeky grin, while Rogers displayed an appropriate level of disgust and betrayal when pursued by this man she believed to be married.

"Cheek to Cheek" and Astaire's "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" solo are probably two of their best-known dances ever, let alone in this movie, but my favorite was danced to Irving Berlin's "Isn't This a Lovely Day (to Get Caught in the Rain)." Ginger Rogers wears English equestrian clothing, which leaves very little room for error on her part. Her body movement was not disguised by fluffy creations and elaborate dresses. Instead it highlighted what an amazing partner Astaire was and how well Rogers was able to keep up with him.

(What I didn't realize is that Ginger Rogers had no significant dance training before she was paired with Astaire in their first picture, Flying Down to Rio, in 1933. Apparently she fudged a great deal, which "Lovely Day" reveals, but she still had to have been amazingly talented to make fudging look so marvelous on screen--and opposite one of the best dancers in history, no less.)

Of the Fred & Ginger pictures I've seen, this one offers the most for modern audiences. The misunderstanding is gratifyingly familiar--no weird outmoded plot devices here--accomplished with such style and comedy. And, as always, the dancing is simply breathtaking.

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