Thursday, June 11, 2009

Carefree (1938)

I don't think I've ever talked about them here, but I am a big fan of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films. They're light, fun, exquisitely performed, and just always a joy to watch. I didn't know much about Carefree going into it, but it's on Netflix Instant so I figured, why not? The film focuses on Dr Tony Flagg (Fred Astaire), a cynical Freudian psychologist and misogynist (though I guess those two things are bound to go together?) as he treats singer Amanda (Ginger Rogers), the girlfriend of his best friend Steve (Ralph Bellamy). Though she doesn't want to break up with Steve, she doesn't want to marry him, so naturally he assumes she has a mental problem and encourages her to be psychoanalyzed. She realizes Tony is a woman-hating jerk and acts coldly toward him. Steve keeps trying to get her to cooperate though and sets up instances for the two to meet outside the office.

Eventually she warms to him and agrees to eat dream-inducing food so he can analyze her dreams and hopefully help her get over the not-marrying-Steve thing. She dreams a lovely dance sequence with Tony, and wakes up realizing she's falling for him. Now Amanda doesn't know how to act around him or Steve, and confides her confusion to her aunt and best friend Cora (Luella Gear). After wandering around the city under heavy drugs administere
d by Tony, she gets into a lot of trouble with the law. Tony covers for her, and thus she finds a way to keep him close by threatening to act out if he doesn't do what she wants, like dance with her. Eventually Tony finds out how she feels and hypnotizes her to believe she is in love with Steve, though in doing so he realizes he is in love with her too. Now he has to unhypnotize her before she marries the wrong man!

Ok so my threshold for silliness, especially in old musicals, is pretty high. I've seen a lot of them over the years and I definitely have a soft spot for those nonsensical screwball musical comedies with more song than substance. However Carefree was a bit too much for me. I know it's the 30's, but the ridiculous concepts and no-holds-barred sexism made it less fun than it could have been. That and the fact that there were only four musical numbers (meaning more time for Astaire to wax on about tenets of psychology). Seeing my beloved Ginger Rogers, who shines in absolutely any role she's offered, stooping to stupid tricks to snag such an asshole was quite frustrating, and Astaire's usual charm was no match for the pretentious dialogue. I don't know much about psychology, to be sure, but it's pretty easy to catch on to the unethical and unrealistic practices going on here. It just seems pointless to use that as the center of a story.

Of course Carefree isn't without its good parts. Rogers wandering around drugged up and giggling like a school girl was adorable and expertly comedic, reminiscent of her delightful turn in Monkey Business. I also thought Luella Gear was quite funny, lucky enough to be handed some of the better sly one-liners ("Oh Joe, you know I don't dance at your age"). Of course the dance sequences were lively and lovely, set to Irving Berlin songs. I read that the softly-shot dream scene "I Used to Be Color Blind" was supposed to be shot in color originally, but didn't film well or something, which is too bad since it's a great idea and would have been an interesting novelty. "The Yam", which to my pleasant surprise Ginger sang alone, is a little over-the-top but still quite fun and of course the ensuing dance number is excellent. If you're a fan of the genre or of Fred and Ginger, it's not a must, but it's sure to be enjoyed if you can get past the central theme. I know if I wasn't such a big fan of the pairing, there'd be no saving it.


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