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.
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)