"There may be trouble ahead, but while there's music and moonlight and love and romance, let's face the music and dance..."

To honor the 80th anniversary of the pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, I wrote a post about the origins of their teaming, so today, I decided to post my personal list of Fred and Ginger’s films in order of my least favorite to favorite. This was a bit of a challenge for me, because I really do love all of their films, just in different ways. When I started this venture, I thought I had it all figured out, but then I went through a curious phase where all I wanted to watch was FOLLOW THE FLEET for about two weeks, which helped change my perspective on it a little bit. Anyway, please let me know what you think of my list and feel free to share yours.

 10. The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939)
Fred and Ginger play the Castles, a nonfictional dancing duo that took the world by storm in the early 20th century. The movie takes the audience through the whole relationship of the Castles, from when they first met, their successes, Vernon joining World War I, and the death of Vernon after his plane crashes during a flying drill. I have to admit that I’ve only seen this film twice. Maybe it’s because it’s based on real-life people, or maybe it’s because the ending is pretty sad. Anyway, the film is still a good one, Fred gets to play a more serious role, and you never want to miss a dance by these two. Plus, this picture is the last one from their RKO series, so it’s worth watching just to see where it fits into their film canon.

9. Flying Down to Rio (1933)
The one that began it all. Dolores del Rio and Gene Raymond are actually considered the stars of this picture, but their romantic storyline can sometimes be dull. It doesn’t help that Fred and Ginger are total scene stealers. They’re hilarious, and their chemistry during “The Carioca” dance blows away any of del Rio and Raymond’s in their love scenes. Thankfully, audiences agreed and we got the pairing of Astaire and Rogers for nine more films.

8. Roberta (1935)
I wasn’t too impressed when I first saw this, I’ll admit it. I’m not the biggest fan of Irene Dunne, so the plotline concerning her and Randolph Scott wasn’t that important to me. It’s gotten better after a few viewings, but I still prefer Fred and Ginger’s scenes. They have two really great dances in this movie, “Too Hot to Handle” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” (Fred’s “I Won’t Dance” isn’t too bad, either.) They showed that even though they were cast as the second fiddles, they’ll be the ones you remember after the credits roll.

7. The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)
I’m really glad that this was Fred and Ginger’s last film. It’s still funny, witty, and poignant (thanks to a script by Betty Comden and Adolph Green), but it’s totally different. Fred’s acting has matured more; it’s in Technicolor; and it was made at MGM, which gives it a bit of a different feel. Also, the two are already married when the movie starts, so it’s no longer about how Fred gets the girl, it’s about how he can keep her.

I can’t think of a better example of their chemistry than the scene when they’re fighting in their bedroom. Ginger hits Fred in the head with a brush, but when he tells her he’s bleeding, she rushes to him full of worry and encourages him to hit her back. He kisses her instead and tenderly sings “You’d Be Hard to Replace,” leading to a little dance in their pajamas and robes. The dance ends in Ginger suggestively crooking her finger for Fred to come closer, and the scene fades out on their kiss. Just marvelous. You also get to see Fred reprise “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” from SHALL WE DANCE, which they didn’t dance to before, but here they do. This number proves that Ginger’s reactions to the dancing and Fred’s singing were the best of any of his partners. The songs may not be as good as their previous ones, but every time I see this film, I love it more and more.

6. Carefree (1938)
This is the only Astaire-Rogers film where the storyline is dominated by Ginger’s character. I love that she gets a chance to shine on her own, especially since she was a great comedienne. The scenes where she is hypnotized and wanders away to wreak havoc are hilarious, and watching her character fall in love with Fred’s is pretty wonderful. Her dream dance sequence with Fred (“I Used to Be Color Blind”) is beautiful. I’ve seen this movie many times and I still gush when Fred sings “Change Partners” longingly to Ginger while she’s trying to dance with her fiancé. And that dance they do while Fred hypnotizes her! Pure magic.

5. Swing Time (1936)
It’s said that this film has the best dancing that the pair ever did, and it’s hard to disagree. “Pick Yourself Up” seems like it was thought up on the spot, and “Waltz in Swing Time” is marvelous. My favorite number, though, is “Never Gonna Dance” because it shows you the whole relationship between Fred and Ginger’s characters. It’s like four dances in one, and the emotion is so deeply felt. Fred has to say goodbye to Ginger, but before he can let her go, he has to tell her that he could never dance with anyone ever again. Then he entices her to do one final dance with him. The melancholy and the hurt is so palpable.

SWING TIME also introduced my absolute favorite song, “The Way You Look Tonight.” There’s no dance to it, but just Fred playing piano and singing it to Ginger is enough. The only reason why this film isn’t higher up is that the screenplay can get a little loopy at times and the ending seems like it was written quickly on the spot so they could wrap up production. Other than that, it’s a wonderful movie.

4. The Gay Divorcee (1934)
Whenever I think of this film, the first thing that pops into my head is “Night and Day.” Yes, it’s an excellent song, but the dance that accompanies it is stunning. It’s a total seduction scene, but with dance. There’s also a song performed by a then-unknown Betty Grable and Edward Everett Horton that’s pretty cute (“Let’s K-nock K-nees”). The ensemble number “The Continental” was actually the first song to win the Best Original Song Oscar, and rightfully so. Also, if you want to see a cool dance step, watch the dance at the very end. Fred and Ginger actually dance up a chair, then a table, then down a chair, and back to the floor. It’s incredible, and I can only imagine how difficult it was to do.

3. Shall We Dance (1937)
My only qualm with this movie is Harriet Hoctor’s creepy ballet dancing. When she bends backwards and dances towards the camera, I feel like I’m watching a horror film. Shudders! Anyway, SHALL WE DANCE is an awesome film. Fred plays a ballet dancer who discovers tap dancing and the beautiful Linda Keene, played by you-know-who. Ginger is wonderfully sassy, of course, and Fred is as persistent as ever. But there are two scenes which really set this film apart for me. The first one is when Fred sings “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” to Ginger. They’re on a pier, with the fog enclosing them as Fred sings that no one could ever take away all his memories of her, and then you get this beautiful close-up of a teary-eyed Ginger. Love it.

The second memorable scene is just a few minutes later. Ginger is starting to reconsider her plans to marry someone else, and the audience is placed right outside the hotel so we can see into their hotel rooms simultaneously. They’re both looking at the locked door that conjoins their rooms, Fred anxious because Ginger has the key, and Ginger nervous because she’s not sure what to do. It’s such a nice, tender moment.

2. Follow the Fleet (1936)
I feel like this film doesn’t get the credit it should. The Irving Berlin songs are amazing (as always), and the dances are just as timeless as the others they’ve done. One complaint about this movie is the Harriet Hilliard-Randolph Scott romance, which I kinda agree with, mostly because Scott’s character is a jerk and I feel like Hilliard could find someone better. Another complaint is Hilliard’s singing voice. She could sing, but the part was originally meant for Irene Dunne and she’s given two ballads in Dunne’s style that just fall flat compared to Ginger’s lively “Let Yourself Go” and Fred’s smooth “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.”

But besides that, the film still has lots of humor and a good plot. I especially love the number “I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket.” First you’re treated to Fred playing a fascinating version of the song on the piano, and then he and Ginger perform it. It’s hilarious seeing Ginger be a goofball while Fred’s trying to seriously dance. And if you pay special attention, during “Let Yourself Go,” you’ll see Betty Grable in that trio behind Ginger, and you’ll notice the very blonde Kitty is played by Lucille Ball.

1. Top Hat (1935)
Two words: practically perfect. It’s witty and charming, and the Irving Berlin score is so lovely. Even the opening credits are great. And then there’s the Art Deco sets! Just breathtaking. My only complaint is that sometimes the secondary characters (Eric Blore, Erik Rhodes, Helen Broderick, and Edward Everett Horton) can get on my nerves, and I’m not sure why. Anyway, one thing I have always loved about this film is the number “Isn’t it a Lovely Day (To Be Caught in the Rain)?” It’s a beautiful song, and I love that Ginger’s character mimics Fred’s as a way of saying “You might be hot stuff, but I am too.” And I could never forgot the absolute beauty of “Cheek to Cheek,” or Fred’s solo “Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails.” Simply a must-see.

With love,
Michaela

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