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SWING TIME (1936)

Swing Time - CoverThe Criterion Collection’ have recently released a digitally enhanced version of the RKO musical, ‘Swing Time’. It was directed by George Stevens; it starred Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Victor Moore, and Helen Broderick; and it lasts for 103-minutes. Plus, as an extra added bonus, the Blu-ray edition comes with audio commentary provided by John Mueller, a forty-minute documentary about the film, and a number of interviews with Fred, Ginger, George Stevens Jr, Hermes Pan, and Mia Mask. Please enjoy.


Swing Time (1936) [The Criterion Collection]


THE STORY:
Do you know what, Penny (Ginger Rogers)? I bet you anything that you didn’t like me when we first met. After all, my pal Pop (Victor Moore) stole from you and I made you lose your job as a dance instructor. But never mind, eh? As I still managed to get you your job back and find you a new partner to dance with! Namely, me, John Garnett, although my friends normally call me by my nickname, Lucky (Fred Astaire), due to my habitual gambling problem.

Well, I say problem, but if truth be told, it isn’t always a problem, especially when I hit it big. Like last night, for instance, when I managed to win us a spot dancing at the ‘Silver Sandal’ night club! Or alternatively, how I won your affections from that sleazy crooner who was singing there, Ricardo Romero (Georges Metaxa). 

But then again, that’s most probably why what next transpires goes heel, toe-toe, heel, toe-toe, when you suddenly discover that I’m engaged to be married. As a gambler finds it hard to get out of debt - an elegant dance teacher starts to break a sweat - a couple of clowns jive and sing and fret - and at the end of the day, please remember, sometimes true love is always worth a bet.




THE REVIEW: 
Can you guess what I did when I finished watching ‘Swing Time’? Oi! Cut that out this instant! As I would never freeze-frame Ginger Rogers and fixate on her Jammie Dodgers! No. Never on a Sunday. What I did instead involved me jumping (falling) out of my chair (sofa) so I could dance (seizure) like a champ (chump). Seriously, folks, that’s how this musical made me feel. It made me feel like I was dancing on air due to its elegant and rather charming demeanor. And trust me, when I say charming, I really do mean charming, with a capital ‘C’, even though it did possess one fundamental flaw.

Swing Time - Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
The story. The story was shit. Not totally shit. But it did smell in places because it had a fairly flimsy narrative structure and its character development was minimal at best. Basically, the overall plot revolved around a dancer who goes to New York City in order to earn enough money so he can marry a woman from his hometown. Along the way, however, he accidentally meets a dance teacher and they accidentally fall in love, yadda-yadda-yadda, bing-bang-bong, etc-etc-etc. The end! So, as you can see, this story isn’t an original story and a fair portion of it relies heavily on coincidence and happenstance. But, if truth be told, it doesn’t matter that it’s not an original story, because it’s main saving grace relies on everything else. And trust me -- again -- I do mean everything, ranging from its tone, to its style, to its overall musicality.

You see, unlike a classic Busby Berkeley musical, this one attempts to tell us a jovial romance that features a selection of highly detailed dance routines, rather than painting the screen with a deluge of synchronized showgirls performing to a plethora of musical set pieces. From start to finish, we are treated to six musical interludes in total, with two of them solely on singing and the rest a mixture of music and dance. Stylistically, most of the accompanying music was either based on a swing tune or a ballad, and included such majestic melodies as ‘Never Gonna Dance’, ‘A Fine Romance’, ‘Pick Yourself Up’, and ‘The Way You Look Tonight’, among others, each composed by Jerome Kern (music) and Dorothy Fields (lyrics).


Swing Time - Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers


Now, on an aesthetic level, the visual look of this film was very much of its time, the 1930s, and mostly comprised two-tone Art Deco furnishings, clothing, and designs, that were either very elegant or very debonair on screen. Fred Astaire, for instance, generally wore a slim-fit version of a top hat and tails, whereas Ginger Rogers, on the other hand, opted to put on chiffon dresses, plush mink coats, and nicely proportioned ball-gowns. The numerous sets and backgrounds were likewise in vogue, and normally constituted lavishly decorated ballrooms, the odd mahogany hallway or entrance, plus of course, a side room of some description.

Swing Time - Movie Posters
Anyway, that’s enough of that for the time being, because now would be a pretty good time to sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) RKO first released this eight-hundred-and-eighty-six thousand dollar production in New York, New York, on the exact same day we now celebrate ‘National Just Because Day’. It was on the 27th of August, 1936, and it managed to claw back two-point-six million dollars at the Box Office. (2) Loosely translated, this project was entitled ‘Winter Madness’ in Italy, ‘Playboy’ in Poland, and during post-production, it was given two working titles: ‘I Won't Dance’ and ‘Never Gonna Dance’. (3) Originally, this film began with a musical number entitled, "It's Not in the Cards", which was eventually cut from the final print because no one thought it was very good. (4) One of the taglines used to promote this picture, states: ‘A glorious songburst of gaiety and laughter!’. (5) The majority of this movie was shot inside Paramount Studios, Stage Two, located at 5555 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood, Los Angeles, although a couple of sequences were shot on location in downtown LA, including La Grande Station. (6) If you noticed something odd about the creamy shampoo placed on Ginger Rogers’s hair, then you might like to know that this wasn’t shampoo at all, but rather, whipped cream, because real shampoo dried too quickly, and they needed it to stay frothy so Fred could sing the song, ‘The Way You Look Tonight’. (7) Near the start of the film, we are presented with a silly sequence where Fred is reprimanded for not marrying Margaret Watson, as played by Betty Furness. Well, the man who reprimanded Fred is Margaret’s father, Judge Watson, and in real life, he just so happens to be the character actor, Landers Stevens, who's the father of George Stevens, the director of this film. (8) It took 47 takes to complete the climax of the "Never Gonna Dance" sequence. According to Ginger Rogers, this was a particularly hard sequence to complete because of the amount of spins incorporated into the routine, causing her feet to bleed.




Okay. So where was I? Oh yes! I remember now. I was going to tell you a little bit more about ‘Swing Time’. Or as I like to call it, the love affair between Stan Laurel and Marilyn Monroe! Well, with all due respect, I did notice some similarities between Fred and Stan and Ginger and Marilyn, both visually and performance-wise, especially during those scenes where one of them gazed off screen and presented a cartoonish expression. Fred, for instance, played Lucky as if he were an unpredictable gambler with a foppish style. Whereas Ginger, on the other hand, played Penny as if she were a no-nonsense dance teacher with an angelic edge. And as for the three supporting characters? (Played by Victor Moore, Helen Broderick, and Georges Metaxa) Well, in their case, I'd say Victor was a bumbling stooge (pass), Helen was a wisecracking mother hen (hit), and Georges can sing but can't act (bust), while collectively, they each supported the two main stars in a very complimentary manner. 

Swing Time - Victor Moore, and Helen Broderick
Come to think of it, while I’m on the topic of stars, I think it would be a good idea to mention something about Fred and Gingers’s dancing before I forget! After all, their ability to dance and sing far outshines their ability to tell jokes. Heck, a couple of their jokes were so outdated (pant cuffs), I wasn't quite sure why they were meant to be funny! Others, however, were fairly good and managed to hit their mark (pick a card). But if truth be told, I would rather see them dancing than hear them bust a gag. Overall, their routines were a real pleasure to watch. Not only because they were timeless, majestic, and actually drove the plot in the right direction, but in addition to this, they also incorporated a variety of different techniques and styles, ranging from tap, jazz, waltz, ballroom, and many many more. In fact, just thinking about these two moving around the screen, twirling, gliding, and telling a visual story with a wave of an arm, a kick of the leg, and a pivot of the waist, makes me want to jump (fall) out of my chair (sofa) so I can dance (seizure) like a champ (chump)! But before I do that, let me just say that this film was a pretty decent film, and I would definitely recommend it to fans of the genre. A true classic.

THE RATING: B+

SWING TIME (1936) SWING TIME (1936) Reviewed by David Andrews on July 08, 2019 Rating: 5

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