You take romance, I’ll take Jell-o.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

Swing Time (1936)

AFI 100 Years… 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Ranking: #90

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ sixth (of ten) movies together. Sooo I need to talk about this movie in two separate parts, because one part is magnificent while the other part drives me mental.

Dancing & Singing

Fred and Ginger are always a pleasure to watch onscreen – even when they’re not dancing, they have a lovely chemistry together. And when they do start dancing, look out! It’s almost mesmerizing how well they move together, although I’m sure each number took countless takes and endless hours of rehearsal. “Never Gonna Dance” supposedly required 47 takes and caused Ginger to bleed into her shoes. But they make it look so effortless and beautiful!

The beginning is especially entertaining, where Fred pretends to be interested in a dancing lesson just to get close to Ginger – it’s amusing to watch him pretend not to know how to dance, and then seconds later take everyone’s breath away with his snazzy moves. I’ve never seen anyone move as clumsily and gracefully at the exact same time 🙂

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

Both Astaire and Rogers have lovely singing voices as well, and this film showcases a few gems like “Pick Yourself Up”, “The Way You Look Tonight”, and “A Fine Romance”. The only potential surprise is “Bojangles of Harlem” – the shadow projections in the background are an interesting use of camera magic for that time period, and a perfect showcase for Astaire’s technical discipline (they filmed him doing the same routine and then he danced in front of the projection, matching it step for step) – however, the appearance of Astaire in blackface might be a bit shocking and distracting to modern audiences. This New York Times article suggests that it’s not as offensive as it first seems, but actually an ode to tap dancer Bill Robinson, who influenced Astaire heavily.

Plot

Ugh. First of all, this “Lucky” guy needs some new friends. His so-called pals keep him from his own wedding by pulling a lame trick that makes him look like he’s committing a huge fashion faux pas. And since when is that enough to deter someone from making a major life commitment? Yea, Margaret was the wrong girl for him anyway, but it’s just a bit silly.

And then there’s the ridiculous deal he makes with Margaret’s father: $25,000 (a veritable fortune in 1930’s money) just for the chance to come back and ask for her hand in marriage again, like she’s tradable property. And she’s not even mad about Lucky not showing up for the wedding, she just wants him to go off and make her father some money. Weird family.

Then “Lucky” meets “Penny” (ha! how contrived) and Lucky’s bumbling friend steals a quarter right out of her purse. She calls a cop over, and the cop immediately judges her as a crazy person and tells her to “run along”. It’s not even amusing, just annoying. Penny is, of course, subsequently peeved at Lucky but seems to get over it rather quickly (dancing solves everything, dontcha know?), just to get annoyed by his tardiness and gambling, then seduced by his piano playing, then angry about the fiancee he’s been keeping secret from her, then she threatens to marry someone else, and then she falls back in love with Lucky again. Whew! Normally I can overlook the hasty marriage proposals and un-proposals (???) in movies like these, but this one had me bouncing around worse than a pinball in a pinball machine. The rate at which Penny alternates between Lucky and his romantic rival, the overly jealous band leader, makes her character seem a bit weak and passive.

Ginger Rogers

And why is this Ricky Romero guy so critical to the duo’s dancing career anyway? Why can’t Lucky and Penny dance to someone’s else’s band / music? Their success being tied to him, and the ease with which his contract is gambled away and won by various parties, is confusing to me. To bring an end to the madness, Lucky pulls the old pant-cuff trick on Ricky to keep him from marrying Penny (foolproof plan, I’ll have to make a note of it for the future… not!), everyone dissolves into fits of laughter, and all is well with the world. Overall, not really my favorite Fred and Ginger movie. It’s been a while since I’ve seen The Gay Divorcee, but I’m pretty sure I liked that one better. Let’s just drink until they start dancing again.

Cocktail #1: Old Fashioned

Wow, it’s hard to believe I haven’t made an Old Fashioned for this blog yet. This seems as good a time as any; it’s an incredibly simple recipe, but you can get fancy with the sweetener and the bitters to make it your own, or just stick with the classics when you need a good stiff drink that’s one step up from pouring liquor straight from the bottle and into your glass. Made properly, it’s a smooth, classy concoction that tastes great and makes you look ten times cooler than you feel. Now if only I could find a tiny top hat and tails for my glass…

  • 2 oz rye or bourbon (I’m a bourbon kind of gal)
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • garnish: orange peel

Muddle the sugar and bitters in an old fashioned glass. Stir with bourbon and ice. Garnish with orange peel.

Cocktail #2: Ginger Rogers

Adapted from Imbibe Magazine.

  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz pomegranate juice
  • 3/4 oz ginger syrup
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 dashes bitters (I used Bittermens Hellfire bitters here)

Dry shake the egg white in cocktail shaker. Shake again with ice and remaining ingredients. Strain into a coupe glass. Enjoy whilst laughing merrily at your dear friend’s fashion choices.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

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