Swing Time (1936) comes in at number 90 on the A.F.I. Top 100 Movies list, and is a charming and surprisingly sassy love story. Ginger Rogers plays the bold Penny and Fred Astaire is Lucky, the smooth talking con man. The dancing is phenomenal, and while they are individually amazing their chemistry when together is crackling. The dialogue is smart and witty and I was surprised at some of the innuendo that was allowed.
I never thought that a movie from the ‘30s would have the protagonist be such a ‘playa’. Lucky is somewhat difficult to like in the beginning, first because he’s late for his wedding – partly due to his ass-hat friends, but in the end because he gets caught up in gambling. He is also in a heavy flirtation with Penny while he’s engaged to another woman. He keeps that a secret and is happily exploiting the chemistry that he and Penny have, because it adds to their dancing and success. Even though he shows some guilt at letting the relationship go too far (by kissing her *gasp*), he does dive in and is willing to deceive her. I couldn’t help but feel great admiration for Penny, and I was pretty pissed when he decided he was more interested in momentary satisfaction than hurting either of the two women he was deceiving.
Some interesting observations about the movie being almost 80 years old: off-screen smooching; weird hair washing and a “black face” routine. The kissing is really self-explanatory; there was no smooching on-camera. The weird hair washing was done by Penny. She started squirting something from a bottle onto her hair/scalp (while holding a conversation with another woman in her room) and started rubbing it in. I thought it was some sort of scalp conditioner until it showed her at the bathroom sink bent over with a head covered with bubbles. She was fully dressed as she walked around the apartment/hotel room with her hair lathered up. I don’t know if this was a modification made for the movie, or if this was how woman always washed their hair.
The black face dance routine was simply puzzling to me. I didn’t see any relevance for it at all, and it seemed completely random. It showed him getting ready to perform by smearing something dark on his face and I groaned, but was still unwilling to believe it. I guess it was something really popular, but I just couldn’t believe how random it was. It had absolutely nothing (that I could tell) to do with the story. And was it a coincidence that he had GINORMOUS feet and his legs were so long it took like, four female dancers to carry each giant leg off so he could actually stand up and start dancing?!? Could they really get away with that kind of symbolism in the ‘30s? Obviously portraying a stereotype wasn’t an issue, as demonstrated by the black face number.
Another surprising thing was during one of the first scenes in the movie, when Fred and Ginger first met on the street. There was a heated exchange during which a car horn was honking at the same time that Lucky’s friend Pop was seemingly using obscenities against the policeman. It just seemed so provincial that they didn’t show any kissing, when the filmmakers seemed to have had these other freedoms.
I thought one spectacular thing about the movie was that you could really perceive the mood of the dancers during their performances. It was done with subtlety and grace, and was beautifully executed. Whether excitement, joy, agitation or sadness, it was clearly demonstrated in their dancing by expression, gesture and posture, among other things. Brilliant.
Chooch pointed out that he thought that while Astaire was likely more renowned as a dancer, but that Rogers was doing essentially the same exact steps, but in HIGH HEELS. Testify!
I was a little disappointed in abrupt and overly neat ending, but it was still a fun movie. I truly enjoyed it and am thrilled it is on the list, it definitely belongs there.
My favorite line was by Lucky to Penny as they were saying their big farewell. Penny asked if his fiancee was a good dancer, and his reply was:
“I’ve danced with you, I’m never going to dance again.”
Fantastic movie, and if you are someone that likes musicals at all I suggest you give it a chance. I really didn’t think I would enjoy it beyond the novelty factor, but it was a fun and light film with amazing choreography and performances. If you don’t like musicals, you may not like it but should give it a shot. What do you have to lose?
Next up is Sixth Sense, which I’ve seen and love, Love, LOVE. I literally can’t wait to watch it again. I’ll also be posting my ranking of the Top 100 very soon. I had planned on it last week but thanks to a total and complete Go Daddy FAIL, I’m still catching up from the long downtime we suffered. Go Daddy is now Gone Daddy, and we have gone with a company that is well respected by a well respected friend.
Phew! Now I can finally go listen to Mike and Christiana’s discussion of Swing Time!