Combustible Celluloid
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With: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore, Erik Rhodes, Helen Broderick, Alice Brady, Ann Shoemaker, Betty Furness, Betty Grable, Charles Coleman, Georges Metaxa, Harriet Hoctor, Jerome Cowan, Ketti Gallian, Lillian Miles, Victor Moore, William Austin, William Brisbane
Written by: Allan Scott, Ernest Pagano, P.J. Wolfson, Howard Lindsay, Dwight Taylor, George Marion Jr., Dorothy Yost, Edward Kaufman, etc.
Directed by: Mark Sandrich, George Stevens
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 430
Date: 18/03/2013

TCM Greatest Classic Film Collection: Astaire & Rogers (2010)

4 Stars (out of 4)

The Right Hoofers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

According to legend, when Fred Astaire first auditioned for the movies, someone scrawled the following note: "can't sing, can't act, slightly balding, can dance a little." Of course, he went on to change the Hollywood musical forever, with his unassuming charisma, his light frame and his insistence on a certain kind of choreography. He shot each dance sequence, from head to foot, in its entirety, without cutting. That was a unique idea back then, but in today's world of music videos and Moulin Rouge, it's positively outrageous.

Of course, Astaire might have had a good career on his own, but he's forever linked to Ginger Rogers, who has her own legendary line. Reportedly Katharine Hepburn said, "She did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels." Ginger could also really act, as she proved later on in her solo career, winning an Oscar for Kitty Foyle (1940). She had the much harder job in the "Fred and Ginger" formula, pulling away from the lovestruck, pursuing Fred (sometimes involving some kind of mistaken identity or wrong impression). She had to be tough and angry while still remaining alluring, and she had to eventually change her mind and give in. (Some reports indicate that the pair really didn't like each other much off camera, but that's just too horrible to think about. It spoils the illusion.)

First paired up in 1933, Fred and Ginger made ten films together. Warner Home Video -- which owns the old RKO library -- has already released them all in two big box sets, but now a new TCM Greatest Classic Film Collection brings together four of their best films on two, two-sided discs for a bargain price (about $28 retail).

Everyone agrees that their two best films are Top Hat (1935) and Swing Time (1936), and both are included here. When I was in college, I worked in a media cage, checking out all kinds of audio and video equipment to teachers and students. We had very few videos to watch behind the counter, but both Top Hat and Swing Time were there. I whiled away many pleasant hours with them. Some scholars tend to rank Swing Time higher, based on the fact that it was directed by future Oscar winner George Stevens, but Top Hat usually gets by on pure charm.

In The Gay Divorcee, Fred and Ginger's first starring role together, Ginger plays a woman unhappily married to a husband who's never around. Her aunt (Alice Brady) hires Egbert 'Pinky' Fitzgerald (Edward Everett Horton) to help with the divorce, and he in turn hires Rodolfo Tonetti (Erik Rhodes) to pose as Ginger's lover so that her husband can catch her in the act. Unfortunately, Ginger mistakes Fred for the decoy. Mark Sandrich, who directed the majority of the Astaire & Rogers films, establishes the light touch that carried through the series, but at 107 minutes, this one's a bit long. The film advertises "The Continental," the hot dance of 1934.

The fourth film in the set is Shall We Dance (1937), which includes some terrific George Gershwin songs and a supporting performance by the fussy Edward Everett Horton.

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