artistically dramatic athletics and Fred Astaire (1899-1987) was
the world's greatest dancer. His impeccable grace epitomized elegance,
and his style incorporated elements of ballroom dancing, tap-dancing
and ballet. His lithe form, bright smile and overall bearing personified
class internationally for half a century with only Cary Grant
coming a little close at the end of his career to approaching.
Soft-spoken, he was a great, albeit underrated, singer, whose
sophistication would precede Frank Sinatra's.
He had élan,
the charismatic personality and talent that gave the promise of
perfection and unmistakable genius and he was without question
the greatest performing artist in the history of the cinema as
evidenced by the incredible legacy of his career. Many artists
create masterpieces, some several, but only a very few many and
Astaire's oeuvre is without equal.
his solo performances such as the homage to Mr. Bojangles (Bill
Robinson) in this film, or his gravity-defying prancing in "Royal
Wedding," are truly remarkable, it was his duets with Ginger
Rogers (1911-1995) that were the most popular perhaps because
the public could more easily identify and fantasize with them.
the partners in the duets were fabulously synchronized, the focus
was always on Astaire if only because his movements were not obscured
by his partner's dresses. (This fact unfortunately tended to minimize
the greatness of his partners even though the choreography, by
Hermes Pan, was pretty much equal.)
In his excellent
book, "The Great Movies" (Broadway Books, 2002), Roger
Ebert, the film critic, makes the following observations:
all the places the movies have created, one of the most magical
and enduring is the universe of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
To a series of movies made between 1933 and 1939, they brought
such grace and humor that they became the touchstone of all things
elegant....what Fred and Ginger had together, and what no other
team has ever had in the same way, was a joy of performance....When
you see anyone - an athlete, a musician, a dancer, a craftsperson
- doing something difficult and making it look easy and a joy,
you feel enhanced. It is a victory for the human side, over the
enemies of clumsiness, timidity, and exhaustion. The cynical line
on Astaire and Rogers was, 'She gave him sex; he gave her class.'
Actually they both had class, and sex was never the point.
was a skinny wimp of a man but he possessed incredible energy
and his legendary and electric screen performances were usually
shot in one, continuous take although they often required dozens
of rehearsals. As Roger Ebert points out in his fine review of
this film at http://www.suntimes/ebert/greatmovies/swing.html, Astaire insisted
that the dance numbers be filmed "unbroken, always showing
the full figures of the dancers from head to toes."
the sixth film in which Astaire and Ginger Rogers starred. The
first was "Flying Down to Rio" in 1933 and other earlier
ones included "The Gay Divorcee" (1934), "Roberta"
(1934), "Top Hat" (1935)
to Tim Dirks's review of the movie at his great website (http://www.filmsite.org),
this film "is more entertaining for its dance numbers than
its storyline (a script written by Howard Lindsay and revised
by Allen Scott, and based upon an original story by Erwin Gelsey)."
"One of the film's working titles was Never Gonna Dance,
(the antithesis of Rogers/Astaire films), but was changed to Swing
Tie to reflect Astaire's interest in making the film 'swining'
and contemporary. Curiously, the film is almost a half-hour finished
before the appearance of the first song and/or dance number. As
in all Rogers/Astaire films, the non-sensical romantic plot is
rather contrived and unbalanced, and is built mostly around a
series of wonderfully choreographed dance numbers, duets, Art
Deco sets and songs. As
a dancer turned gambler, Astaire is challenged to raise $25,000
to prove to his father-in-law that he can support - and marry
his fiancee Betty Furness. Screened during the height of the Depression
Era, the film also served an inspirational purpose for the spirits
of the country, especially with the song-dance 'Pick Yourself
The film has six songs written
by Jerome Kern including "The Way You Look Tonight"
and "A Fine Romance.' "The Way You Look Tonight"
was the movie's only Oscar for Best Song.
Astair plays John "Lucky"
Garnett, a tap-dancer, who is engaged to Margaret Watson, played
by Betty Furness. As the movie begins, he is finishing a routine
in a nightclub and is changing to go to his wedding. He plans
to leave show-business to become a professional gambler, he tells
his old sidekick, Dr. Edward "Pop" Cardetti, played
by the marvelously nervous Victor Moore.
His fellow hoofers in the act, however, worried
about what will happen to them if Astaire leaves their group,
steal his pants and convince him that the latest fashions dictate
that his pants should have cuffs.
His fiancé's father, Judge Watson, played
by Landers Stevens, the father of the film's director, George
Stevens, is enraged that Lucky is late to the wedding and calls
him to call off the wedding but does not realize that he is not
speaking to Lucky, but another member of the dancing group.
Ignorant of the judge's phone call, Lucky shows
up at the judge's home several hours late and is told by the judge
that he would not let him marry his daughter "for ten thousand
dollars." Lucky asks "How about twenty?" "Not
for twenty thousand," is the reply. Lucky asks "Twenty-five?"
The judge begins to reject that offer, but then declares, "Say
young man, where could you get twenty-five thousand dollars?"
and relents, if he can return with $25,000.
Lucky departs for New York
with only his "lucky quarter" and his sidekick. In New
York, Pop tries to get cigarettes from a vending machine using
a button from his coat as Penelope "Penny" Carroll,
played by Ginger Rogers, walks by and he asks her for change for
his "lucky quarter." She gives him change and out pops
several cigarette packs and lots of coins from the vending machine.
Lucky, however, wants his
"lucky quarter" back and rushes after Penny, who bumps
into someone and drops her purse, which Pop picks up in an attempt
to switch quarters, but Lucky grabs away the purse before Pop
makes the switch and Penny looks into the purse and cannot find
the quarter and hails a nearby policeman.
The copy does not believe
that anyone as well-dressed as Lucky, who is still in his wedding
attire, would steal Penny's quarter and goes off. Penny then goes
into the dancing studio where she works, followed by Lucky.
Lucky is offered a free
dance lesson by one of Penny's associates and he picks Penny to
teach him. He proceeds to dance with her very awkwardly, remarking
that his "two feet haven't met yet, but I'll be teacher's
pet yet." She then starts singing "Pick Yourself Up."
Lucky tries again but they both fall to the floor and she is fired.
Lucky tries to defend her and starts to dance, with amazing skill,
and soon they are dancing together beautifully and she is rehired
and the manager decides to arrange an audition for them at the
Silver Sandal night club.
Lucky, however, does not own a dinner jacket
for the audition and tries to win one by gambling, but he is not
successful and Penny discovering him without his pants refuses
to talk to him.
Lucky eventually is successful
at gambling but Penny will have nothing to do with him even though
he and Pop "picket" her apartment. Eventually, Penny's
girl friend, Mabel, lets Lucky into Penny's apartment and he serenades
her with the song, "The Way You Look Tonight." She relents
and emerges from her room with her hair covered with shampoo.
So he and Pop picket in
the hall outside Penny's apartment room, wearing placards that
read: "PENNY CARROL UNFAIR TO JOHN GARNETT." After a
week of picketing, Mabel sympathetically encourages them: "Keep
up the good work, boys, the public is with you." Lucky has
scheduled a second audition and "bankroll-ed" himself
to prosperity, but Penny stubbornly refuses to see him: "I
like being stubborn where he's concerned." Mabel suspects
that she is in love with him, but she denies it:
At the audition, the orchestra leader, Ricardo
Romero, played by George Metaxa, who is also in love in Penny,
refuses to play music for Penny and Lucky and the club's owner
reveals he cannot force him to because he "lost" him
the night before to a rival nightclub owner, Dice Raymond, played
by John Harrington, playing cards.
Lucky and Penny call to Raymond's nightclub
to gamble and run into Romero, who is the new bandleader. Raymond
bets Lucky "double-or-nothing" for his winnings at the
casino in the club, but Lucky decides to gamble for Romero's contract.
Lucky wins the wager but Romero still will not perform because
of the late hour. Lucky, however, holds up Romero's hand with
the baton and the music begins and Lucky and Penny perform to
the "Waltz in Swing Time."
Lucky is in love with Penny and has not yet
told her about his fiancé. She eventually finds out, however,
and in a duet they sing "A Fine Romance."
Back at the nightclub, Lucky does a solo dance,
"Bojangles of Harlem," in blackface, which is one of
the great dances in screen history. When Lucky takes a curtain
call, however, he notices his fiancé in the audience.
Raymond discovers that the
wager for Romero's contract was not "on the level,"
Mr. Dirks wrote, adding that "Strong-arm gangsters of Dice's
compel Pop to admit to Lucky: 'He pulled a cold deck on you and
I palmed the Ace of Spades on him.' On another draw of cards with
another fixed deck, Dice wins Romero's band contract back."
Lucky is congratulated backstage
by his fiancé, but they are found together by Penny who
also learns that Lucky has reverted to gambling again. Penny proceeds to accept Romero's proposal of marriage.
Penny asks Lucky if his fiancé dances
well. He replies that he doesn't know, adding "I've danced
with you. I'm never going to dance again," which leads to
his singing the song "Never Gonna Dance" and the accompanying
Lucky is subsequently told by his fiancé
that she is not in love with him and plans to marry someone else.
Penny, of course, is still supposed to mary Romero, but Lucky
and Pop steal his wedding pants and there is a happy ending.
The story is sophomoric
and soapy, albeit cute. The chemistry between Astaire and Rogers,
however, is indelible. Rogers eventually stopped hoofing in the
movies, opting for "serious" roles. Astaire, of course,
went on to very long and incredible career doing what he did best,
dancing and singing in the movies, feats he performed without
In almost all of his filmed
dance sequences, Astaire insisted on full-figure shots and no
cut-aways. He was a perfectionist. Wasn't he grand.