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Fred and Ginger Romance and Dance in Swing Time

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Dusty is an avid classic movie buff and wants to write reviews to, hopefully, stimulate discussion.

Movie Poster

Cast

Swing Time

1 hr. 43 mins. Comedy, Musical, Romance 1936 7.6 stars

Director: George Stevens

Cast: Fred Astaire - John (Lucky) Garnett

Ginger Rogers - Penny Carroll

Victor Moore - Pop Cardetti

Helen Broderick - Mabel Anderson

Eric Blore - Mr. Gordon

Betty Furness - Margaret Watson

George Metaxa - Ricky Romero

Note: Spoiler alert. This review reveals the outcome of the movie

Margaret and Her Father Confront John When He is Late for His Wedding

Landers Stevens and Betty Furness

Landers Stevens and Betty Furness

Synopsis

John Garnett is a very talented dancer who performs for a living. However he doesn’t want to make his living as a dancer, rather his ambitions more directed toward the field of gambling and he is also good at that. In that world he is known as “Lucky” Garnett.

When the movie opens John is concluding a dance show on stage before a paying audience. He’s in a terrible hurry as he is due to be married to Margaret Watson within a few minutes. His fellow performers do not want him to get married because that would break up their act. So they concoct a plan to stall him so that he’ll miss his own wedding. They take a fashion magazine and draw cuffs on the pants of the model in the photograph and show it to him. They argue that he can't marry until his pants are up to date with the latest fashion. He falls for this prank and is effectively too late for his wedding.

When he finally does arrive at Margaret’s house to explain why he was so late he has an angry bride and an angry bride’s father to contend with. When he explains however that he made a lot of money the previous day both the father of the bride and the bride herself soften their feelings toward him. He says he will go to the city and earn a sum of $25,000 (a large amount of money in those days) then come back and marry Margaret.

John then boards a train for New York and sets out to make it rich as a gambler. Along with him comes his trusty side kick, Pop Cardetti. After they arrive in the city they accidently jostle a woman named Penny. She spills the items she had been carrying. Although “Lucky” as John now goes by exclusively, helps her more problems occur and she just wants to be rid of him. She saunters off, but Lucky who has eyes for her sees that she enters a dance studio so he follows her. He signs up to receive dance instruction from her, but she is not interested in teaching him at all. Due to his persistence she does teach him because her boss, Mr. Gordon, insists on not mistreating the clients. During the lesson Lucky repeatedly fumbles and falls as if to embarrass Penny. And in frustration she utters the words that she will never be able to teach him anything at which time her boss, Mr. Gordon, overhears her an fires her on the spot. Dejected, Penny goes to her locker to gather her things to depart. Lucky, however, tells Mr. Gordon that he had misunderstood what she had said. In fact, he argues, she was paying him a complement implying that he was so good that she could not teach him anything more advanced than what he already knew. Lucky then grabs Penny as she is passing by and asks her to show Mr. Gordon just what she had taught Lucky. She’s extremely reluctant but Lucky insists. Bear in mind that Lucky is already a great dancer, but he has only been teasing Penny – he has a romantic interest in her, you see. Lucky then proceeds to dance with Penny in front of Mr. Gordon and Mr. Gordon is impressed. More importantly Penny is impressed! She realizes that he is an accomplished dancer and that makes her very happy. Because Mr. Gordon is impressed Penny keeps her job and the two of them, Lucky and Penny, are entered by Mr. Gordon into a dance show.

Pop seems interested in Mr. Gordon’s secretary, Mabel and the two start seeing each other.


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Lucky and Penny in Their First Dance

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire

Synopsis Part II

Penny comes by to visit Lucky while he is in this state of being without clothes – she expecting to go to this event - and the trouser-less Lucky quickly dons a table cloth wrapped around his waist like a sarong. Penny is not impressed and she says something to the effect that she never wants to see him again. Pop and Mabel feel sympathy for Lucky’s plight and support him as he pickets Penny’s room at the hotel where they are both staying. Finally Penny permits him to come into the parlor of her suite as she prepares for a night on the town. Lucky sings a song while playing her piano, “The Way You Look Tonight”. Penny is once again impressed and comes out to see Lucky forgetting that her hair is lathered in shampoo.

Lucky and Penny go to a night club who’s band leader is Ricky Romero and he has a crush on Penny. When Lucky requests a song so that he can dance with Penny Ricky refuses stating that he has fulfilled his contractual obligation with the club owner for the evening. Lucky responds by gambling with the club owner and names Ricky’s contract as the stake. Lucky wins and now he owns Ricky’s services. Lucky and Penny get their dance.

Pop, Mabel, Lucky and Penny go out together on a day trip to the country. Pop reminds Lucky that if he wins $25,000 he must go back to Margaret. This dampens his enthusiasm for Penny because he is torn between the two women.

Shortly afterwards back in the city Lucky is net by his fiancé, Margaret after a performance. Penny also stops by his dressing room at the same time and meets Margaret. At the same time the club owner shows up claiming that Lucky cheated when he won Ricky’s contract and challenges him to a rematch. Lucky has no choice but to agree because the owner has henchmen with him. Lucky gambles and loses. Penny walks out on him and he is left with Margaret who he no longer loves.

Penny runs to Ricky and accepts his proposal of marriage. A disconsolate Lucky asks to have a word with her and he sings a sad song saying he’ll never dance again. Lucky and Penny then dance one last time.

Then back at Lucky’s apartment Margaret announces that during Lucky’s absence from her, while he had been living in the city, she got engaged to another man an she was breaking up with Lucky. Lucky takes this news well because it frees him from any sense of obligation he had felt for Margaret.

Lucky rushes to Penny who is getting ready for her own wedding to Ricky. He doesn’t win her back with the news that he is now free but he comes up with a last minute plan. He gets Pop and Mabel to help him as he pulls the same trick on Ricky as had been pulled on him at the beginning of the movie. He doctors a picture in a fashion magazine to show that cuffs are “in” and sends Ricky all over looking for a tailor. This shows his effort and he finally wins Penny back.

Penny with Shampoo Listening to Lucky Singing "The Way You Look Tonight"

Ginger Rogers

Ginger Rogers

Analysis

This movie is not known for its plot which is quite simplistic and at best mediocre in its entertainment. What this movie is about is a showcase for the dancing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. They were without a doubt the premier dancing couple of the golden age of Hollywood. Any movie with them in it was about them and their gifted talent as dancers. They danced a mix of ballroom and tap. Fred Astaire also sang several numbers in this movie, songs that went on to become big hits in that day. Some even continue to be well known to this day some 80 plus years later, such as “The Way You Look Tonight”.

One could almost say who needs a plot when Fred and Ginger are on the screen? Indeed many of their movies have quite similar mediocre plots.

In the number, “Pick Yourself Up” Fred and Ginger dance in what is arguably the most well-known dance of the movie. In this scene Lucky finally stops teasing Penny and demonstrates that he can dance and very well at that.

The final dance scene is born out of the mournful song, “Never Gonna Dance”. Penny has announced that she will marry Ricky and Lucky sings that he will never dance again, but only going to love, meaning love Penny from afar, unrequitedly. It’s a touching song as she dances one last time with him. In the end, however, they do get together and it can easily be assumed that Lucky’s dance career did not end.

There is one song and dance routine performed by Fred Astaire which was not controversial at the time, but is today. That is the number, “Bojangles of Harlem”. Its controversy is in the fact that Fred Astaire dons blackface. The spirit of the dance was not one of mockery but of homage. Fred Astaire was a friend of Bill Robinson, the man more popularly known as Bojangles. But Astaire meant this to also honor a man named John Bubbles. He had been Fred Astaire’s tap dance teacher. Astaire considered Bubbles to be the “finest tap dancer of his generation” (from Wikipedia, John W. Bubbles’ entry). Both Bojangles and Bubbles were actors in their own rights and both were African Americans. While the name of the number pays tribute to Bojangles the costume and dance style pay tribute to Bubbles – particularly the character he played – Sportin’ Life – in Porgy and Bess from the previous year. John Bubbles was also behind the scenes when “Bojangles of Harlem” was performed as he coached Astaire on the set.

The number itself also showed special effects quite advanced for its time as three silhouettes of Fred Astaire seemed to mimic his every move - well most of his moves - as there are a few moments where the shadows and Fred purposely don’t match.

The comedy in this movie ranges between good and silly. The trick they employ at the beginning and the end about drawing cuffs on the fashion magazine’s photo of a model is laughable. It probably would never work, but it’s the device they use to get the plot to start rolling. In the end of the movie when they do it again it’s silly how much of a big deal everyone makes of it. It elicits more laughter than is realistic, but again, that amount of mirth, unreasonable as it is, is necessary for the plot to conclude with the ending that the audience wants which is that Lucky and Penny end up together. The fact that Ricky is also laughing and jovial after losing Penny on the day she was to marry him is absurd. But such is the nature of this movie. Remember, it doesn’t need to make sense; it only needs to have a happy ending with Lucky and Penny getting together, and with plenty of great dancing and good songs. This movie’s success is that of a good show. The plot only needs to be passable and that is all it is. In other words with a good show you can skimp on the story.

There are several moments of comic relief spread throughout the movie. The entire story line of Pop is comical. When he teams up with Mabel, whose character is equally comedic, the laughs flow. Their early scenes together include his stealing and eating her lunch. When Mabel is asked by Mr. Gordon, her boss, “What’s gotten into you?” She snaps back with the answer, “My sandwich has gotten into him.” They then attempt to replicate the dance that Lucky and Penny just used to impress Mr. Gordon, a dance in which they not once but twice jump over the short fence surrounding the dance floor. But when Pop and Mabel try it Pop lands on the fence breaking it.

Another point of comedy is when Margaret and her father, thoroughly disgusted by Lucky for standing her up at her wedding, begin to soften their attitude towards him when he explains that he earned a great deal of money at that time when he was not at this wedding. It is further comedic when the camera shows a shot of the portrait of the family patriarch frowning when Lucky appears, but later shows the same portrait smiling when Lucky reveals that he knows a way to make a lot of money.

It is comical when Lucky sings the song, “The Way You Look Tonight” while Penny, touched by the song and lyrics comes out of her dressing room and up behind him. She must have forgotten that she had been in the midst of shampooing her hair. As Lucky croons the words, “Just the Way You Look Tonight” he turns to see the object of his affection standing there with her hair lathered in shampoo. That is a funny scene.

A scene where Pop is running after the train trying to hop it to join Lucky while carrying Lucky’s suitcase is also funny. As he is ready to hop onboard the suitcase latch opens and Lucky’s clothes are strewn all over the place. Pop climbs onboard and presents Lucky with his toothbrush. It was sort of a peace offering asking Lucky to take him along to New York.

Finally there is the comic scene of Lucky trying to talk to Penny while wearing a tablecloth instead of pants.

It may seem obvious but it is worth pointing out that when put side by side the names of the two lead characters form the phrase Lucky Penny – coincidence?

Final Scene Lucky and Penny Back Together

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire

Movie Trailer

Dance Class Scene - Lucky's and Penny's First Dance Together

Lucky Sings "Never Gonna Dance" to Penny

A Continuation of the Previous Video - The Final Dance

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