1 Year, 100 Movies #90 Swing Time (1936)

by Trey Hock on July 18, 2010

in 1 Year, 100 Movies,Columns

For 1 Year, 100 Movies, contributor/filmmaker Trey Hock will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year. His reactions to each film will be recorded here twice a week until the year (and list) is up!

If I were going to pick the movie I wanted to watch after “Sophie’s Choice” I could hardly have done better than “Swing Time.” This light, yet dazzling musical romantic comedy starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers is exceptionally well written, well acted, and thoroughly enjoyable. It is what romantic comedies should be, and yet never are, anymore.

Astaire plays Lucky, a dancer and vaudevillian who is supposed to get married to Margaret (Betty Furness), but gets sidetracked throwing dice with the boys. The wedding is off and the only way Lucky will be able to win the approval of Margaret’s father is to return with $25,000 dollars. Lucky departs for New York with sidekick, Pop (Victor Moore), in tow. While in New York, he meets the jaw-droppingly beautiful Penny (Ginger Rogers), a young dance instructor, and Lucky’s fortunes change.

It’s a pretty standard setup, but “Swing Time” is so well constructed, and so well written that you enjoy getting what you expect. You know that everything is going to work out in the end, but seeing how it all works out is delightful.

Before we get to the dancing, I want to say a bit about the acting.

For those of you out there who only know Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers through their influence on others, you don’t know these two incredible actors. Most of the performers or individuals who were inspired by Astaire and Rogers push their own acting too far. They smile too big, frown too low, they overact and lack any subtlety, a flaw that neither Astaire nor Rogers fell victim to.

Watch Rogers’ performance in “Swing Time.” She never stops acting, even in the dance routines, and it’s a subtle smirk, a slightly wrinkled nose, a glance. Rogers’ performance is a knockout. Astaire is pretty darn great too.

And on to the dancing.

There are four main dance numbers in ”Swing Time,” and these are some of the most seamlessly integrated dance numbers I have ever encountered in a musical comedy. Instead of the normal “Here we go, another dance number,” the reaction is much more “Oh wow, and now we’re dancing.” I’m not someone who has ever had an aptitude for dance, but these dance routines seem like pure perfection. Here is one as an example:

And that’s only the first of the four.

If you have any reservations about a musical comedy from 1936 that features dance, I understand, but let me dispel a few possible misconceptions.

This movie is not old or outdated, instead it has a fresh and very contemporary feel. There are jokes about divorce, sexual innuendo, and even a bleeped expletive or two. The side characters, Pop and Mabel (Helen Broderick), are hilarious.

This is not a stern or stiff movie. The dancing and songs are not crammed in, but happen elegantly and move the story forward. Give it a shot, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Next up #89 The Sixth Sense (1999)

1 Year, 100 Movies #91 Sophie’s Choice (1982)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #92 Goodfellas (1990)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #93 The French Connection (1971)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #94 Pulp Fiction (1994)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #95 The Last Picture Show (1971)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #96 Do the Right Thing (1989)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #97 Blade Runner (1982)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #98 Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #99 Toy Story (1995)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #100 Ben-Hur (1959)

1 Year, 100 Movies: An Introduction

In addition to contributing to Scene-Stealers, Trey makes short films and teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Follow him here:

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Xavier July 18, 2010 at 3:04 pm

I am a dancer and I can say that it is done perfectly, despite the complexity the grace, lightness and ease at which it is done is incredible. Astaire is a freak, have you ever seen royal wedding, where he dances on the ceiling of a room, an effect created by rotating the entire room while Astaire dances inside it, changing positions, from the floor to the walls, to the ceiling and back as it does so?

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2 Trey July 18, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Xavier,

I have seen that scene, though I don’t think I’ve seen all of Royal Wedding. That scene is crazy, but the dancing in Swing Time is off the chain.

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3 Colin July 28, 2010 at 8:27 am

I make it my mission to tell as many people as I can about the Nicholas Brothers. Theaters in the segregated South that cut black characters from movies left them in.

Here’s a good reason why–Astaire himself called this the greatest dance number ever:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBb9hTyLjfM

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4 Trey Hock July 28, 2010 at 9:41 am

Colin, thanks for sharing. I love how Cab Calloway just clears the floor for them. Pretty amazing.

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