29 January 2004 | rick_7
Following an apparently accidental teaming in 1933's Flying Down to Rio (a fun Dolores Del Rio vehicle), Fred and Ginger got their first starring feature a year later. It was based on J. Hartley Manners' play 'The Gay Divorce'. The Hays Office insisted on shoving an 'e' on the end, for how could a divorce be so trifling as to be gay? Some UK prints still run with the original title. RKO assembled a sparkling ensemble cast of top-flight farceurs, bringing together (in ascending order of sublimity) Eric Blore, Edward Everett Horton and Erik Rhodes ("Are you a union man?"). Mark Sandrich directs the thing with a maximum of fuss and style. Hermes Pan helped Fred choreograph the numbers.
The plot is suitably - and delightfully - trivial. Musical star Guy Holden (Fred) happens upon a girl (Ginger), falls desperately in love with her, then spends the rest of the picture trying to free himself from marvellously silly plot threads and Everett Horton's exquisite quadruple-takes.
Keeping just one song from Cole Porter's original score, the timeless 'Night and Day', and adding only four others, The Gay Divorcée is more a comedy with songs than it is a musical comedy. But what comedy - and what songs! 'Looking For a Needle in a Haystack' is a masterpiece of economy: Fred a whirlwind of frustrated, lovestruck energy as he spins around his hotel room lamenting his missing love in peerless style. "Men don't pine," he memorably concludes, "Women pine. Men ... suffer." Everett Horton's rare excursion into song-and-dance territory is a breath of hysterical, liberating ludicrousness, as he knocks knees with a young Betty Grable. 'Don't Let It Bother You', performed by a chorus of dancing girls (and dolls), then spectacularly reprised by a tapping Astaire, is another treat. 'The Continental', the film's vast production number is peculiarly edited but sporadically fine and offers a fitting climax.
It's exceptional fluff, the sort of heady, heightened escapism that you don't come close to very often. An extravagantly mounted, joyous comedy played to perfection by two stars at their irresistible peak. Unmissable.