Friday 20 May 2011

"You see once in a while, I suddenly find myself... dancing."

         Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing in the film Top Hat reminds me of a quote from a very, very different film-
"Oh bliss! Bliss and heaven! Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh. It was like a bird of rarest-spun heaven metal or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now. As I slooshied, I knew such lovely pictures!" And not just slooshied, but viddied as well. Yes I know my Nadsat lingo real horrorshow.

        In the film Astaire's character Jerry Travers is an American professional dancer whose shows in London are being produced by a Horace Hardwick. While staying at a hotel, Jerry does a rather loud tap dancing routine which wakes up Roger's character Dale Tremont who is sleeping just a floor below him. Angered at this disturbance, she goes to confront him. Both of them meet and sparks fly immediately. But due to some confusion, Dale starts to believe that he is infact Horace, who is the husband of her friend Madge and is disgusted at his infidelity. They all end up in Venice, along with Horace's valet Bates and Dale's designer Alberto Beddini and the mix-up continues to expand. Through various situations and a couple of Astaire-Rogers magical dance numbers, everything clears up and this screwball comedy of errors has a very happy ending.

          The film is directed by Mark Sandrich and written by Allan Scott and Dwight Taylor. I had a little problem with the story... I thought everything happened too fast. I guess I believe in love at first sight only in Disney movies, but very rarely otherwise. And being of a "I Don't Need a Man to Make It Happen"-feminist ideology, I felt bad when Dale "marries" Beddini. Ofcourse it made sense in the comical way in the end, and I applaud the writers for that. Then little one-liners here and there make the film very enjoyable, especially those with Madge and Horace. I liked the way it portrayed the upper class and their absurd habits, whether it's the pin-dropping silence in the London Thackeray Club where if a pin did drop, it would probably cause a scene, or the acceptance of a spouse's infidelty with pride and joy practically.

         This is a very famous film, and I think I've always known about it. But the first time I remember being distinctly aware of it was at the bittersweet ending of Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo. Astaire and Rogers dance Cheek to Cheek, and the whole world seems to melt. They were great leads and I have unfortunately not seen any other films of theirs, even though I have spent hours on Youtube watching their various dance numbers. Fred Astaire is a funny-looking guy, but his smile is absolutely infectious and I liked how he was cavalier throughout the film, even at times when other actors might have looked desperate. Ginger Rogers is absolutely beautiful, but she too has a quirky look about her that makes her all the more engaging. There is no doubt why these two are such famous Hollywood onscreen sweethearts, they seem to belong with each other- in dance and just plain conversing. And boy can they dance and sing!

          The other cast members were very good also. I particularly loved the Hardwicks, played by Edward Everett Horton and Helen Broderick. I think that were it not for the dance numbers, they would've stolen the show from Astaire and Rogers. They were hilarious, Horace with all his little blunders and foolhardy and Madge with her sardonic acceptance of Horace's cheating habits. Bates played by Eric Blore was funny too; his way of talking about himself in plural reminded me of Gollum a lot. Now it might be my fault, but Beddini seemed very gay to me and I was surprised when he proposes to Gale. But I suppose that because for so many years when a similar character has been portrayed onscreen who has always been gay, it led me to believe that and if I had seen the film when it first came out, I wouldn't have thought otherwise.

        Now I must talk about the music. The divine Irving Berlin provided the music for this film. I think Top Hat is one of the most famous musical numbers there is, and with good reason. It's so upbeat and catchy and smooth that one cannot help but fall in love with it. I loved Cheek to Cheek and the Piccolino too. The dancing was choreographed by Astaire and Hermes Pan. It was absolutely splendiferous obviously, and just makes me want to tap dance too. So very bad.

        The clothes were gorgeous, especially those of Rogers. I, for one, loved the ostrich feather-ed dress and the way it moved when she danced with Astaire. Bernard Newman was the stylist for the film. Carroll Clark was the art-director of the film. I loved the sets, especially the stage during Top Hat and all of Venice, which just seemed like a gigantic ballroom floor made for Astaire and Rogers to dance so prettily around. I officially want the Big White Set to make a comeback now.

         All in all, it was one thoroughly enjoyable film, a solid reminder of the screwball comedy-musical days of Hollywood. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are Hollywood legends and noone can ever ever replace them. Do watch! 

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