18 April 2002 | schappe1
Tapping on the summit
The greatest thing in all the "That Entertainment" films is the "Begin the Beguine" number from Broadway Melody of 1940". After years of carrying Ginger Rogers, (and her mother), Fred Astaire finally has a partner who can really DANCE! On Ice, it was Sonja Heine. In the water, it was Esther Williams. But on the dance floor, it was Eleanor Powell, the only female dancer ever to become an above the title movie star in her own right. In Broadway Melody of 1936, there is a male dancer, (not prestigious enough to get a turn with Eleanor), who seems to have the same general look and physique of Fred Astaire, who was working for RKO at the time. I think MGM wanted to prove they could find a "Fred Astaire", too. I call this guy "Faux Fred". In Broadway Melody of 1940, Eleanor gets to dance with the real thing, and the result is marvelous.
There is no big production, even thought the set is sumptuous, with a floor that is a flawless mirror. But other than that, it's the two of them, giving it all they had. Their dancing is flawless. It's what makes them different that is really interesting. Fred Astaire danced with his whole body. Most dancers look like puppets, (see James Cagney). It's all they can do to hold their arms out at the side. But Fred used beautiful hand movements, (his hands were as long and lithe as his legs), to frame everything he did. Eleanor Powell is a master of projection. You will notice most famous movie dancers have "big mouths". It enables their smile to light up the screen. Nobody did this more than Eleanor Powell, who made love to the camera while she danced. You can see them reacting to each other during their big number. At one point, Astaire is painting a picture with his fingers and you can see Powell spotting this and getting her hands out there, too. She doesn't want all the eyes to be on Fred. Then Fred notices her huge smile and breaks into a broad grin himself, feeling, no doubt that he doesn't want to be in Eleanor's shade. It just doesn't get better than this.