The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ musical Swing Time (1936) is this week’s film in my 2019 TCM Essentials movie watching project. Considered by many to be Astaire and Rogers’ finest picture (it was their sixth picture; they made 10 films together), it’s a total delight.
Directed by George Stevens with songs by the great songwriting team of Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, this romantic musical comedy is as light and breezy as they come. Astaire plays Lucky, a gambler and dancer who is engaged to be married. When he gets cold feet and misses the wedding, his fiancé and her family give him a second chance to prove himself if he can earn $25,000 on his own. In the meantime, Lucky meets dance instructor Penny Carrol played by Ginger Rogers and I’m sure you can guess what happens next (hint: Lucky falls hard for Penny). The romance takes its twists and turns in between such great musical numbers as “Pick Yourself Up,” “A Fine Romance,” “Mr. Bojangles” (with a problematic blackface scene), and the unforgettable “The Way You Look Tonight.”
In The Essentials book, author Jeremy Arnold writes, “Fred Astaire was more than an actor, dancer, and singer. He was a master of the medium who had great control over the visual presentation of his films. That’s the reason he and Ginger are consistently framed full-figure, head-to-toe, as they dance, and why there are never any reaction shots of audiences and rarely any cuts at all during their numbers. Astaire knew that keeping us firmly and emotionally involved in the performance itself would have the greatest effect. As he once said, ‘Either the camera will dance or I will dance.'”
Here’s an example of the camera work described above with Fred and Ginger’s “The Last Dance” sequence from the film.
I loved watching Swing Time again and it brought back a lot of happy memories of watching Fred and Ginger movies with my dear mother who introduced me to many of these classic films in the first place. As TCM’s Robert Osborn said about Swing Time, “It’s such a joyful movie and it just makes you feel good, and anytime you’re down in the dumps all you have to do is put this movie on and you’ll feel better.”
My score: 5 out of 5 stars
I watched Swing Time on TCM. It is also available on Apple iTunes.