on September 3, 2005
It was the touch of finger tips, a hand on the waist, a longing look and a smile, and a graceful spin; it was Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, making love while they danced into our hearts and stayed there. It was elegance and charm, a romantic screen teaming like no other. Fred and Ginger gave the country a boost and a bit of hope in dire times, and made a collection of funny and romantically elegant dance musicals that have never been surpassed as film entertainment. There was magic when they danced, and charm when the talked to each other.
Here, in this wonderful boxed set, are some of their finest films. It is a bit of heaven you can slide into your vcr any time you need a lift, and never be let down. Even the wonderful "Carefree" is included, a film less like the others in that the emphasis was on the screwball humor rather than the routines, which were less in abundance but still as enchanting. Also included in this set is their bittersweet farewell picture, "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle."
Fred and Ginger fans will be glad "The Barkley's of Broadway" has been included in this set as well. It was made as a "reunion" picture, ten years after the couple had said goodbye. It is an enjoyable film on its own, but a notch below the other four. Nevertheless, every fan of Fred and Ginger needs to own that one also.
Here is an overview of this lovely collection of fun and romantic films we all took to our hearts long ago------
The easy elegance and fluid grace of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers blend perfectly with the romantic music of Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields in this most charming of stories, produced by Pandro S. Berman and directed by George Stevens. Erwin Gelsey wrote the story and Howard Lindsay and Allan Scott contributed the screenplay to the film Ginger always pegged as her favorite of the 10 she and Fred made together. "Swing Time" is charming perfection, and a reminder of just how wonderful the movies can be.
George Stevens gave "Swing Time" a romantic glow with the use of snow and the never to be forgotten "Never Gonna Dance." The bittersweet six minute sequence of "Never Gonna Dance" is one of the most romantic ever filmed. Fred and Ginger shot 48 takes before they were completely happy with it. Ginger is lovely beyond words in gowns by Bernard Newman, especially in this scene. "Never Gonna Dance" was actually the working title of the film.
John "Lucky" Garnett (Fred Astaire) is a dancer and gambler on his way to marry Margaret Watson (Betty Furness). His pal Everett "Pop" Cardetti (Victor Moore) knows it's the end for the troupe if this happens, so he and the boys pull a gag about cuffs that leaves Lucky without pants! Lucky misses the wedding, of course, but the very pretty and sincere Margaret is willing to forgive him. Her dad gives him a chance to redeem himself if he can go to New York and earn 25,000 dollars and prove his worth.
He and Pop run into redheaded dance teacher Penny Carrol (Ginger Rogers) on the street and the smitten Lucky spends the rest of the film trying not to earn the money so he won't have to go back and marry Margaret. There is a lot of charm as Lucky saves Penny's job at the Gordon Dance Academy by showing the owner (Eric Blore) how much she has taught him in only a few minutes! Pop hits it off with her pal Mabel (Helen Broderick) and offer support as Lucky tries not to fall for the sweet Penny.
Lucky must battle band leader Ricardo Romero (Georges Metaxa) for Penny's hand when he discovers to his glee that Margaret doesn't want to marry him either. Scenes such as an unseen kiss by Fred and Ginger behind a door, the rendering of "A Fine Romance" in the snow, and a last second, delightful surprise for Fred and Ginger fans, which takes place in front of a beautiful bay window as the snow falls, all make this film an exquisite delight.
The lovely "The Way You Look Tonight " won the Oscar as Best Song, and Hermes Pan was nominated for his work as Dance Director for Astaire's astounding "Bojangles of Harlem" number. Fans often go back and forth as regards "Swing Time" and "Top Hat" as to which one was the couple's best film. The truth is, they were all wonderful, and there was something to love about them all. My personal favorite is "Carefree." "Swing Time" happens to be my daughter's favorite. Which only goes to show how timeless these true classics are.
SHALL WE DANCE
The beloved "Shall We Dance" was the only Fred and Ginger film with songs from George and Ira Gershwin, and they were splendid. Songs like "They Can't Take That Away From Me" made for great entertainment when coupled with the opulent RKO sets in this Pandro S. Berman production. The lively tale of mix-ups and misunderstandings was from a screenplay by Allan Scott and Ernest Pagno, based on an adaptation by P.J. Wolfson of a story by Lee Loeb and Harold Buchman. Ginger's gowns by Irene were fabulous as always and Mark Sandrich once again took the helm.
On his stay in Paris, Pete (Fred Astaire), a famous ballet dancer also known as Petrov, wants to meet musical comedy star Linda Keene (Ginger Rogers), and in fact, would like to marry her! Pete and his pal Jeffrey (Edward Everett Horton) discover she's sailing on the S.S. Queen Anne and follow her. Pete uses a fake accent for a short time but is eventually found out, and finds out that dogs are the way to a girl's heart.
A wild story Jeffery told Lady Tarrington (Ketti Gallian) in Paris comes back to haunt Pete, as suddenly everyone on the cruise thinks he and Linda have been secretly married, and are going to have a baby! It's a bit much for Linda, who has sworn off reporters, and they decide to really get married, so they can get divorced. But it's too late for Linda, as she has fallen in love with the pursuing Pete, and there is a sadness as Pete sings "They Can't Take That Away From Me" on a ferry to Manhattan after it's all done. The tune was nominated as Best Song but lost the Oscar to "Sweet Leilani" from "Waikiki Wedding."
Hilarious moments in the film include Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore in a "hushing" duel with ballet patrons, Horton and Jerome Cowan getting tight, with Horton getting ill afterward, and Fred convincing Horton that he's seasick, even though the water is perfectly calm. Blore ends up in jail for the second time in one of the couple's pictures and is once again a riot.
Ginger sings "They All Laughed" and she and Fred share a lovely dance that culminates with a smile, as the couple sit on a piano. A fun and famous scene has them on skates in the park, dancing to "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." Fred's character Pete wants to dance with Linda all his life, but what's he to do when she won't consider it? Dance with images of her, that's what. A charming conclusion has Linda joining the other girls, but Pete can't figure out which is the real Linda. Will Linda say yes to Pete? If you are a fan of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers you know the answer to that one!
Devoted fans of one of the most fondly remembered couples in screen history might be shocked to learn that during production, there were plans for this to be their final film. "Swing Time," their previous entry, now widely regarded by film historians, along with "Top Hat," as the zenith of their films together, had done huge box office business in large cities upon its initial release. But that business had quickly subsided and there were those at RKO who felt they had gone to the well once too often.
Fortunately for us, that theory was squashed, and we got to see the hilarious "Carefree" and the tender "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle" before the couple said farewell. Again, fortunately, we don't have to say farewell, only "see you later," because we now have the ability to watch these wonderful films at home whenever we want. "Shall We Dance" is a charming reminder of a magic that passed this way only once, and something you'll want to capture forever by picking up a copy today.
While somewhat different than their charming and endearing musical films, this entry from Fred and Ginger is probably my favorite. Fortunately all the great elements that made the previous films so wonderful are still here, but this time those elements are interspersed between some nice screwball comedy that finally got to showcase Ginger's comedic talents. Fred is great as always, but this one is really Ginger's film, and she shines.
Once again, a fine Pandro S. Berman production and some magical songs by Irving Berlin made this Mark Sandrich film a sheer joy. An original idea by Marian Ainslee and Guy Endore was adapted to story form by Dudley Nicols and Hagar Wilde, then turned into a screenplay by Allan Scott and Ernest Pagano. Fred and Ginger, with fine support from Ralph Bellamy, Jack Carson and Luella Gear, turn all these elements into what, I believe, is the most "fun" of all their films.
Tony (Fred) is a psychiatrist trying to do his pal Stephen (Ralph Bellamy) a favor by seeing his radio singer fiance Amanda (Ginger) so he can figure out why she has called off their wedding three times! She blows Fred off as a quack when she overhears a transcription he's done which is less than flattering but finally gives in and agrees to let Tony disect her dreams and discover what's wrong with her.
A meal of lobster and mayonnaise, and a lot of other things, make her dream alright, but in her dream she's dancing with Tony! Amanda can't tell him, of course, and when he threatens to stop seeing her she makes up a dream that would keep ten psychiatrists busy and the fun really begins.
Rogers was fabulous in this film and it was the impetus for her very successful solo career. This light screwball comedy has some terrific moments. It's a laugh riot as Ginger walks out while being hypnotized, thinking she loves Bellamy, and going after Fred with a shotgun, so he can die like a dog! As Fred tells Bellamy while they run after her: "She's in a trance. She may even act, a little odd!"
During the dream sequence they get to dance to "I Used To Be Color-Blind" and later on at a party they do "The Yam" in a very fun scene. Berlin's "Change Partners" was nominated for an Oscar. But Ginger and the screwball comedy take top billing in this one, making it one of their best. It is sophisticated and funny, and Fred and Ginger end up together as always. This time she's in a gorgeous wedding dress, and she has a black eye!
You don't hear as much about this one, but its inclusion here is what puts this collection over the top for me, making it a must have for anyone who wants to collect some of the team's best films in one easy purchase. Just fabulous fun!
THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE
This beautiful and poignant farewell from one of the most memorable and beloved of screen couples in film history was the perfect way to say goodbye. Their previous pairings had been filled with joy, grace and elegance; a delightful escapism which helped get everyone through the depression and set a tone of charm and romance no one else has ever come close to. Appropriately enough, their last in the incredible cycle is tender and sweet, faint echoes of their previous entries mixed with the melancholy of something special disappearing forever, never to pass this way again.
Astaire and Rogers tell the story of Vernon and Irene Castle, who set dance and fashion trends all across Europe and America during a more innocent time in the world. Their's was a story of love, humor and dance. But when what they had always dreamed of was within their reach, the world intruded in a way which could not have been anticipated. Astaire and Rogers have never been so real as in this nostalgic and gentle ode to love and innocence.
Based on Irene Castle's stories, "My Husband" and "My Memories of Vernon Castle," the adaptation by Oscar Hammerstein II and Dorothy Yost was turned into a screenplay by Richard Sherman. Ginger's costumes were created by the real Irene Castle, and the Castle's love hangs over this film like a soft velvet fog. H. C. Potter's direction is minimal, allowing Fred and Ginger to say so long through the story of Vernon and Irene.
It begins in 1911, when Vernon, a second comic for Lewis Fields, is chasing after another actress. She ditches him at the beach, and a drowning little dog will bring Irene Foot and Vernon Castle together for the first time. Walter Brennen is wonderful as the crusty and protective Walter. He has practically raised Irene and calls her "Sailor" through her entire life. Vernon and Irene slowly come around to each other. A scene where both he and Irene attempt to get her dog to jump in his borrowed automobile, as an excuse to take a ride together, perfectly captures the sweet and lovely innocence of the time prior to WWI.
There is a charm to scenes in the Foot's parlor as Walter, and Irene's parents, go out of their way to leave the couple alone and keep asking if there is any news yet. It will bring a warm smile to your face when Vernon finally tells Irene he loves her and proposes, and laughter at his reaction to her acceptance. There is a warmth and sense of nostalgia to everything here as the young couple try to make their dreams come true.
It was Irene's belief in Vernon that pushed them forward as a dance couple, as she knew his talents were being wasted in the role of comic buffoon he was forced to play on stage. They have to leave Fields in America for Paris, in what appears to be their big break. Their springtime honeymoon in Paris, however, is plagued by financial woes when they discover they are not getting the chane to dance at all, but only for him to keep playing the comic fool for laughs.
That is when Maggie Sutton (Edna May Oliver) steps in, using her influence to get them a chance to dance at the Cafe De Paris. They do it for a meal for themselves and Walter, but once they hit the dance floor, they will never go hungry again. Maggie becomes their manager, her gruff exterior hiding a heart of gold. Their popularity grows to staggering preportions, as does their bliss. They travel all over Europe and America, setting dance and fashion trends the world over.
Vernon and "Sailor" set dance trends such as the "Castlewalk" and "Foxtrot," as well as the "Maxie," the "Castle Polka," and, the legendary "Tango." There are Irene Castle hats, bon bons and face cream. And Vernon Castle shoes and cigars. The montage of Fred and Ginger storming to success is graceful and joyous. Ginger is especially fetching in a memorable black tango dress designed by Irene Castle.
There are dark clouds on the horizon, however, as the entire world is sucked into war for the first time. Vernon and Irene are ready to stop touring and settle down to the life they've always dreamed of having. Irene's fears finally have to take a backseat to Vernon's sense of duty, however, when he joins the fight and enlists in the Royal Flying Core. Irene waits anxiously, the couple exchanging letters until they can be together once again. A more innocent time, intruded upon by the world as never before, is captured beautifully here.
There will be a reunion in France, and one more dance, before Vernon is finally transferred to Texas as a flight instructor. It seems they may have escaped WWI unscathed, but fate may be requesting some sad music, for a final dance. A bittersweet fade out of Irene and Vernon dancing forever, will bring tears not only for the Castles, but for Fred and Ginger, who were in their elegant way, trying to say goodbye.
There is a sweet scent of honeysuckle and roses here, a different but equally lovely magic caught on celluloid one last time. If you love Fred and Ginger, you can not miss the graceful way they chose to exit, spinning and dancing down the lane in our hearts forever.
THE STARS MUST BE BRIGHTER
Watching the sheer elegance and timeless grace of Fred and Ginger when they danced, and sharing in the laughter of their humorous pursuit of love, is a gift we could never measure, or put a price tag on. The delightful and charming escapism they brought into our lives helped carry us through the roughest of times. They still take our breath away and gives us a boost when we need it, as each new generation discovers the magic of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. And sometimes, in the evening, if we listen carefully, we can hear the faint echo of an orchestra, playing a tune by Berlin, or Kern, or Gershwin, and we know for certain, the couple we hold dear in our hearts, who gave us so much love and laughter, dance the night away, among the stars......