"All that I know is you'd be hard to replace..."
Today’s post will be my last one celebrating Fred and Ginger’s anniversary, and I’ll admit that initially I had no clue what more I could write. I tried thinking of many different things, but it wasn’t until I was watching ROBERTA a few nights ago that I figured something out—I’d write a list of my favorite things about our favorite dancing duo’s films. So, without further ado, behold The List.
What I Love about Fred and Ginger’s Films:
1. The dancing
I know, I know, this goes without saying. But creating this list without including their dancing would’ve been sacrilegious. Their dancing was what helped seal the deal with audiences 80 years ago, and without it, who knows what would’ve happened to the movie musical. There are not enough words in the world to describe everything I feel about their dances, so I’m not even going to try. You’ve all read plenty about it in my earlier posts, anyway.
2. The songs
Irving Berlin. The Gershwins. Jerome Kern. Dorothy Fields. Cole Porter. All of these songwriters helped to elevate the Astaire-Rogers musicals to something extraordinary. Fred introduced so many incredible songs, such as “Change Partners,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” “Night and Day,” “Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails,” “Isn’t This a Lovely Day?” and of course, “The Way You Look Tonight.” When he sang a duet with Ginger, we were given “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “A Fine Romance,” “I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket,” “The Continental,” and “They All Laughed.” It’s pretty astounding, and it brings me to…
3. Fred’s singing
Fred has one of my favorite voices, speaking and singing. When he sings, it’s so unique. The little trills he puts on certain words is divine, and his singing feels so intimate, like he’s solely directing it towards his partner. Fred reportedly hated his voice and thought it sounded terrible, but many songwriters disagreed. Irving Berlin compared him to the likes of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra because of the way he could project a song, and Jerome Kern called him the best interpreter of his songs. One of the reasons why Fred was able to introduce so many great songs was because composers admired his voice and wanted him specifically to sing their music.
4. The sets
Two words: Art Deco. These sets are so cool, I could just look at them all day. A dance like “Never Gonna Dance” wouldn’t have worked half as well if it didn’t have that incredible Silver Sandal nightclub set. The scenery wasn’t only nice to look at, but it also helped lend itself to the image of Astaire and Rogers. The twosome demonstrated sophistication without snobbery, and their glossy settings were perfectly matched. Even FOLLOW THE FLEET had to have an Art Deco set (see: “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” sequence).
5. The dialogue
It’s only right that people with chemistry like Fred and Ginger should have awesome dialogue to go with it, and their screenplays do not disappoint. The wit, the humor, the snappiness—I could never get enough of it. Just read the following examples and you’ll agree:
“What is this strange power you have over horses?” “Horsepower.”
“I’ll take that [dress]. And tall, handsome gentlemen with large bank accounts will be asking for my telephone number. And getting it.” “And won’t they be surprised when I answer?”
“John, every day you act worse, but today you’re acting like tomorrow.”
“You know, it isn’t that gentlemen really prefer blondes, it’s just that we look dumber.”
“Let’s kiss and make up.” “No, let’s just make up. That’ll give you something to work for.”
6. The crazy names Fred gets
I’m not totally sure what was going on with the screenwriters, but they gave Fred some pretty strange names. ‘Bake’ Baker, Huck Haines, Lucky Garnett, Peter P. Peters (or Petrov)… It’s a little weird, and kind of wonderful. I mean, come on. No one gets character names like that today.
7. The supporting actors
Almost every Astaire-Rogers film has one of the usual suspects: Edward Everett Horton, Helen Broderick, Erik Rhodes, or Eric Blore. Each has their own zany brand, and I love it. Horton is the silly and befuddled sidekick to Fred. Broderick is the funny and brutally honest best friend to Ginger. Rhodes is the clueless Italian who gets in the way. Blore has the unforgettable lisp and somehow helps Fred and Ginger get together. Aside from these actors, Randolph Scott was in ROBERTA and FOLLOW THE FLEET, and he played off Fred very well in my opinion.
8. Betty Grable and Lucille Ball
Speaking of supporting actors, occasionally you’ll find Betty Grable and Lucille Ball in the film. In FLEET, Grable’s in the trio of backup singers for Ginger for “Let Yourself Go” and Ball plays Kitty. In TOP HAT, Ball is a worker in a hotel’s flower shop, and in ROBERTA she’s one of the models in the fashion show at the end. Grable also sings with Edward Everett Horton in “Let’s K-nock K-nees” in THE GAY DIVORCEE.
9. The clothes
Fred and Ginger wear clothes exceptionally well—their slender bodies are just made for it. Fred always has those elegant suits with a flower in the lapel, and of course there’s the top hat, white tie, and tails he hated. Sometimes you’ll see Fred in one of my favorite costumes of his, which is a nice collared shirt and slacks with a scarf as the belt. And then there’s Ginger’s clothes. Her dresses are always fantastic, and so incredibly sleek. She hardly ever has a bad outfit.
10. Crazy plotlines
Let’s face it: the storyline is not the reason why you watch these films. It’s usually something crazy and implausible, like mistaken identity. It’s interesting that Astaire-Rogers films haven’t been classified as screwball comedy, because they share commonalities. Instead of doing pratfalls, though, they express physicality through their dancing. I was reading an article the other day, and it brought up a great point: 1934 was the year that the screwball comedy really emerged, thanks to TWENTIETH CENTURY and IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, and the article suggested that it wasn’t too much of a stretch to include THE GAY DIVORCEE in that group. Something to think about…
Thanks for sticking with me as I celebrated one of the best screen pairings there ever was. I could never say enough about these two—their films mean a lot to me, and I know I can count on them to make me feel better whenever I’m feeling down.
Thanks, Fred and Ginger.