16 November 2000 | SGriffin-6
Lesser Astaire and Rogers, which means still pretty good
This was the last of the Astaire and Rogers films at RKO (they would reunite at MGM for "The Barkeleys of Broadway" ), and represents the studio attempting to find a new way to make the duo popular. It's hard to believe, since the pair have become legends in Hollywood musical history, but by the end of the 1930s audience interest in Astaire and Rogers seemed to be ebbing. Consequently, this film feels *very* different than the rest of their films.
This is not a story of boy meets girl/boy dances with girl/boy loses girl/boy chases and chases girl/boy gets girl and dances with her again. There aren't a ton of the whimsical oddball comic supporting players. And--steady yourself--there are very few full-out major musical numbers. There is no stunning score of songs by Irving Berlin or the Gershwins.
This is because this is a musical biography about the Astaire and Rogers of the previous generation. Hence, the duo are asked not to dance in the manner that made them popular but in the manner that made *the Castles* popular, and to music that *that* couple danced to. Often, when the two dance, we are interrupted by various plot points (ie., cutting to other characters talking instead of keeping the camera on the dancers). One of the few moments where we are able to enjoy them completely is a montage sequence showing the Castles becoming the toast of the nation (with Astaire and Rogers literally dancing across a giant map of the U.S.)
The other major musical number is a solo: Ginger Rogers singing "The Yama Yama Man." Astaire was about to end his contract at RKO, but Rogers still was under contract--so the studio is plainly more interested in trying to build up Rogers for a solo career, and the film indicates this (Rogers' solo, the emphasis on her clothes and hair, etc.) Meanwhile, the film also indicates a growing awareness of the coming war, by dealing with Vernon Castle's enlistment during World War I--one of the first times Astaire had donned a uniform for the cameras (something he would do a *lot* in musicals for the next 5 years).
All in all, it's not what one usually expects from an Astaire and Rogers film, and thus suffers in comparison to "Top Hat" or "Shall We Dance," but still retains a charm and personality nonetheless.