Swing Time - 1936
Swing Time - Released October 12, 1936. Directed by George Stevens
The Astaire-Rogers films often repeat (there's ten in total), and that's the case with Swing Time. Fred (as "Lucky" Garnett) and Ginger (as Penny Carroll) has the usual set-up: Fred likes Ginger but she's reluctant, therefore he must pursue. To win over this lady he'll have to have something to draw her besides talk and jokes (script from Howard Lindsay and Allan Scott), he'll need (you guessed it) great dancing. And that's where Swing Time is a unique and rare film. The famous dancing couple work through several different numbers sprinkled into the goofy story line, the first one the absurd situation where Fred is at the dancing school where Ginger teaches and he makes pretend he's got no ability whatsoever. Tripping, falling and sliding as Ginger struggles to keep him aloft finally leads up to the payoff: the dancing school owner (Eric Blore) is made to see what the helpless Astaire has learned during his ten minute lesson and he then proceeds to grab Ginger and deliver a bravura number that has the pair devouring all of the space in the school's practice studio.
Swing Time has a bit more "middle" than usual due to director George Steven's layering in more emotional life to the couple getting to know each other, though there's no mistaking this part of the film for a serious effort at a romantic drama. It's only between dancing and just staring past the camera together that we are allowed to visually see depicted a warmer human tale versus what the wise-cracking screenplay allows.
Many of the Astaire and Rogers films are hampered a bit by a kind of variety-show structure that has songs and other dancers popping into the center of the film as if the stars from above the title needed a break off screen to catch a breather (this is most obvious in the otherwise very fine 1935 Astaire-Rogers film Top Hat featuring Irving Berlin's music and tunes). Swing Time isn't in that category as Dir. Stevens has centered the film more onto our two principals, and they carry the load like a typical comedy-romance. Perhaps that is why Swing Time is often considered the best of their movies together.
The Criterion Swing Time Blu-ray is a smooth and carefully balanced picture, and is said to be a restoration effort on the Criterion packaging (which features a wonderful black and white photo of Rogers and Astaire dancing, with the title and bits of text in golden-ink, which in my opinion is appropriate and representative of this whole effort). The sound is a bit harsh and loud in places, but is nonetheless the best example of this film, for both audio and visually, I have ever seen.
Original Page September 2019
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