Not rated. The movie toys with the joke of adultery and the concept of the casual affair. There's one joke that almost involves a low-key curse word. It's a musical from 1935, so actual ribald content was pretty minimal. (We're not looking at the pre-code Forbidden Hollywood stuff. This was a major release.) But the way that this movie looks at the institution of marriage is pretty gross, so keep that in mind. Not Rated.
DIRECTOR: Mark Sandrich
I'm going to tell you about one of my purchase regrets. See, I'm still a fan of physical media. Even though I've cut down on my physical media purchases by a lot, I still have an appreciation for DVDs and Blu-rays. But part of that neuroses involves how the box looks on the shelf. When I was still buying Simpsons DVDs, I hit an impasse because one of the seasons was almost exclusively released as a giant Homer head. I couldn't have that on the shelf naturally and it would break the cleanliness of the shelf. (Part of this is why I completely appreciate what Monk did with its DVDs.) But I was working at Thomas Video when I bought the DVD for Top Hat. I also bought The Gay Divorcee at the same time. I think it was Warner Brothers that was releasing these slim packs within box sets at the time. Well, both of these films were part of the Fred Astaire / Ginger Rodgers box set and I was dealing with completely disposable income at the time, so I bought these two used copies broken up from the box set.
Lo-and-behold, I have these two thin cases on my shelf and I don't know what to do with them. But if you were wondering, "Is Tim going to be writing about the entire Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers box set?", the answer is "Probably not, because I only own two of them." But these two movies are very telling. Trust me. I am not opposed to watching any more. A very large part of me absolutely loves these movies. I'm always shocked that one of the big musical set pieces finds its way into a movie that may not be the most famous musical ever. See, Top Hat is the home to "Dancing Cheek-to-Cheek". Yeah. There's one other kind of famous song in here, but my sleepy brain can't get "Cheek-to-Cheek" out of it right now. I know that, out of the box set, Top Hat may be one of the more classic films. But between these two movies, I kind of realized that they're all the same film.
I was kind of a butthead about musicals in college. I have a theatre degree (as proven by the way I spell "theater"), but that degree focused on traditional drama. We didn't do musicals. We were focused on Stanislavski and The Method. So I became a bit of a snob and thought about musicals as second-class stories. After all, it seemed like cheating to have the characters just sing their internal conflicts and thoughts when we were so busy emoting. But since I've become a film fan, musicals are now pretty good. But during this time, you would probably have heard me say something like, "All musicals are the same!" And boy, I would want to punch that guy today.
But the problem is, these Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals do seem to be the same, based on the fact that The Gay Divorcee and Top Hat are way too similar to try to separate them. I know. I like Christopher Guest movies and he tends to have his troupe of actors follow him from movie to movie. The same is true about The Gay Divorcee and Top Hat, but these movies kind of do something criminal about the whole thing: the actors play the same characters (different names), and the jokes are pretty much the same. Now, I'm going to deflect once again and say that The Marx Brothers get a free pass on this because their jokes are really well crafted. But instead, we have Erik Rhodes playing the Italian stereotype all over again. There's also Edward Everett Horton playing Richard Gilmore once again. (Admittedly, I think that was his schtick for a lot of films during this era.) Fred and Ginger are being Fred and Ginger. They're bound to be together, but Ginger can't stand Fred until everything is cleared up at the end. Fred, once again, is way too aggressive of a suitor for 21st Century audiences and kind of comes across like Pepe Le Pew.
This all boils down to the idea that, sometimes, maybe it is all about the spectacle. A lot of this is just about how the film really offers nothing new. Some audiences just want to see these two people do the thing that they do time and again with a new title attached to the film. I guess it might be easier with something that involves performers like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers. Both of them revel in spectacle. The dancing is a little different. The music is a little different. I bet both of these performers crushed live performances because there wasn't the plot to depend on. Both Top Hat and The Gay Divorcee feel like the plot is there so this could technically be considered a movie that could be in cinemas nationwide. Perhaps the choreographer (in my head, Astaire) comes up with the moves ahead of time and the story is plugged around it. It could explain why Fred Astaire is once again playing a performer. I'm always a little disappointed when the big song for the movie is for a play-within-a-play. These scenes don't advance the plot, but are just there to add one or two more songs to the film.
I kind of feel bad for Ginger Rodgers. (There's a lot of my hang-ups and misconceptions attached to this, so be aware that a lot of this is spitballin'.) Fred Astaire is definitely the protagonist of these movies. While there is very little deep characterization in these films, he's the one who gets all of it. The major show-stopping numbers go to Fred Astaire. The thing is, Ginger Rodgers has to be as talented as him. The only time he actually dances with another character, it's with Ginger Rodgers. He has backup dancers, to be sure, but none who ever fill the role of featured dancer. Ginger only shows up at the end, once the plot has been resolved. It also looks like she's dancing on heels or lifts. And she's matching Fred's choreography absolutely flawlessly. I know that she gets top billing, but her screen time has to be half of what Fred Astaire's is. I don't dislike Astaire by any stretch of the imagination, but Ginger kind of deserves more attention, no?
Part of me wants to talk about the Comedy of Errors format of these films. The less famous the musical, the more I notice that it hinges on the concept of dramatic irony and suspension of disbelief to keep the story afloat. This one is one of those extreme cases. The further the movie progresses, the harder it is to to understand character motivations. The movie almost forgets how absurd the central concept is because it doesn't remind us about it. Jerry Travers is apparently super famous for being a dancer, but not so famous that people don't recognize him? Also, the idea that Jerry Travers's success hinges on the concept that people don't know where he's staying for his performance even more bizarre. Instead, we have this guy who will stop at nothing to find Dale Tremont and marry her, but he still has this loyalty to not give out his name? It's not like Travers's central personality trait is loyalty to a promise. He promises not to propose as well, but he breaks that promise at the first opportunity he gets. Dale Tremont then also has to act like a crazy person to make the plot work. The fact that she is aware that she could just leave the hotel to avoid getting married, but chooses to marry Beddini is insane. So I get it: a comedy of errors really forces you to go along with the plot, but there are some really weird choices in this one.
But again, I gripe all day. In terms of fluffy fun (there's the snobby theatre major coming out again), it delivers on the goods. Honestly, if you hadn't watched The Gay Divorcee or another entry in the Fred and Ginger box set, this one might actually be considered somewhat of a classic. But where it stands right now, it was only some fun that seemed really repetitive.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.