Penelope “Penny” Carrol: Listen. No one could teach you to dance in a million years. Take my advice and save your money!
R: If I had to describe this film in one word it would be ‘whimsical’. It is light and silly but witty and funny and it’s the second proper oldie we’ve seen that I’ve enjoyed more than I expected to.
F: It certainly made me laugh more than I was expecting. There are some great moments of slapstick comedy as well as some witty one liners.
R: The ratio of dialogue to song is also about right I think. There might be a whole half hour at the start of the film before anyone starts singing which I think helps keep it grounded.
F: Again it doesn’t feel too much like a musical and I think the songs fit the narrative well. I do think it’s more about the dancing than anything else. I found a quote from Fred Astaire where he said ‘Either the camera will dance, or I will‘ and the stationary camera during the dance scenes really works.
R: Yes it is more of a dance-ical than a musical. 80 years on, the choreography is still really impressive and you certainly see why Fred Astaire was a big deal back in the day. With the possible exception of the very elaborate routine towards the end of the film, I think all the dance scenes are shot within one long take, and the precision and consistency really is phenomenal. What did you think of the songs?
F: I actually really liked them. The one towards the end ‘Never Gonna Dance‘ was my favourite. Coupled with the dancing I thought it was very classy and a great showcase. I did slightly cringe during the musical number where Astaire dresses up with blackface though. I understand this was part of the culture then but it still feels uncomfortable. That said, this song did have the dancing with the shadows behind which I thought was great!
R: I enjoyed the songs too. Partly because there’s more variety than we heard in Yankee Doodle Dandy, but also they’re sung with real attitude. The cast never forget to keep acting while they’re singing and that really makes a difference. It never feels like the story is being sacrificed for the sake of the choreography, which is often my complaint with musicals.
F: Some parts of the story do feel a bit forced. For example, it’s really convenient how the first person Fred Astaire interacts with in New York is Ginger Rogers and he’s got no money but he’s a dancer and she’s a dancer and now here’s a chance to dance for a living. What are the chances? But I’m more than happy to suspend my disbelief when a film is this fun! I think both the lead performances are great but I do feel that the story is his story and she’s just there to be wooed. What do you think?
R: You’re right that it’s not exactly a tale of female empowerment and the story is certainly far-fetched at times, but for me it never strays over the line into ridiculousness. I think it’s thanks to the characters that it all holds together. Although not deep, they’re all well-developed, to the extent I feel like I could much more easily talk about the personality of the supporting characters in this than I could even the lead in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
F: All the characters are very likeable too. Even the ‘villain’ of the film – the conductor of the orchestra – is so pantomime. For me though, it’s also probably the only weak performance in the film.
R: There is something slightly subversive in the way that the boring, steady (and admittedly smarmy) guy is cast as the villain, while the reckless gambler and cheat is the hero. And even more so – particularly for a modern audience – is the core philosophy of our heroes, which seems to be that there’s no problem in life that can’t be solved with a bit more gambling. If it were made today they’d probably have to flash up an advisory warning at the end to say that gambling isn’t really as easy as they make it look here.
F: It does appear that, according to this film, all you need to succeed is the desire to gamble and the ability to foxtrot!
R: There are probably worse ways to live.
Is it worthy of the Top 100?
F: I’m going to say yes. I think it’s superior to Yankee Doodle Dandy which is the obvious comparison from the list so far. Its made me want to seek out more Fred and Ginger films – anyone got a copy of Top Hat I can borrow?
R: It warmed my cold, musical-hating heart, so okay, let’s say it is.