19 January 2003 | Spleen
Why isn't this film better known?
I've only seen two other Fred Astaire vehicles: "Top Hat" and "Swing Time", the more recent of which was made 15 years before this. The improvement is remarkable. At some time perhaps in the 1940s Astaire appears to have been given a charm transplant; in "Royal Wedding", instead of coming across, woodenly, as a bit of a cad, he's a perfectly decent fellow, with all of the human impulses it's easiest to like and intelligence to boot. It's as though he'd been taking lessons from Gene Kelly.
If the earlier dance spectacles are not to be judged too harshly for merely marking time between the breath-taking dance sequences and I concur, they should not be judged too harshly for this how much less should this one be judged harshly, with at least four sequences likely to get applause (all four DID get applause, at the screening I attended): the bit where Astaire "rehearses" when his partner doesn't show up by dancing with and around the gym equipment (again, this is exactly the kind of thing Gene Kelly would do); the scene in which he dances on the wall, then the ceiling, then the other wall, then the ceiling again obviously within a set like the one used in "2001", but Astaire disguises this by finding a different, natural-looking transition from surface to surface each time; the over-the-top "I Left My Hat in Haiti" number; and the superbly performed (well acted and sung as well as well danced) "How Could You Believe Me
etc." routine. Any one of these would be reason enough to dust a mediocre film off and watch it at least once.
But this isn't a mediocre film. It's not just that there are four strong numbers and no weak ones; it's that it DOESN'T merely mark time between them. One thing that this has in common with Donen's other films is its desire to entertain at every moment. It's a light film, even a facetious one
yet we can feel for it, too. There's nothing contrived or pointless about the complication that threatens to thwart True Love. (Whether or not this really IS true love is of course beside the point.) Tom likes the lifestyle of a bachelor, Ellen wants to preserve her career; both characters are genuinely torn for perfectly legitimate reasons, and in fact, there's no way for them to resolve their difficulties except by simply choosing, which is why the sudden, simultaneous decision to get married to their respective partners at the end doesn't feel forced.
I go to watch films I've never heard of and expect very little from, all the time. Why? Because every once in a while, I strike gold.