Thursday, January 3, 2013

Top Hat (1935)

Seen: On dvd on my parents' tv, from my personal collection.

So a terrible thing happened on Christmas, and in times of grief I usually turn to movies. My mom and I threw our sorrows into Top Hat, perhaps Fred and Ginger's most lavish musical. Set at two stunning British and Venetian resorts, the film features Ginger Rogers as a young model and Fred Astaire as the dancer who falls for her. Unfortunately, she mistakes him for his amazingly-named manager Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton), who is married to her best friend Madge (Helen Broderick). Thinking him a predatory adulterer, she rejects his advances and falls into the waiting arms of fashion designer Alberto (Erik Rhodes). All this is just comedic filler for some excellent dance numbers for Astaire and Rogers, and a gorgeous array of Art Deco sets and frilly costumes. Everyone has a nice time.

Though Top Hat might be their most iconic, I've never considered it my favorite simply because I don't think the script is as strong as a few of their other films. Of course, it's still a truly lovely time, and viewers receive exactly what they should expect: exciting dance numbers, fluffy romance, sarcastic jokes coupled with some slapstick and sight gags, and that special kind of 1930s decadence. You've got a snarky but also adorably naive Ginger (who was my age when this movie came out, so now I'm really reconsidering all of my life choices...), and a typically smarmy but likable Fred, with Horton and the ever-droll Eric Blore backing them up in a zany subplot and Helen Broderick throwing out misandrist zingers left and right. It's not really a laugh-out-loud kind of film but darnit if it doesn't make me chuckle throughout. Everyone is just so silly, and the story line is so unabashedly frivolous, that there's no choice but to sit back and let it all happen.

Of course we're here for the dancing, and naturally Top Hat does deliver on that front. The Irving Berlin score is fun and hummable, containing memorable songs "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" and "Cheek to Cheek". I love all of their extravagant duets at the hotel, but I might be most won over by their first dance together for "Isn't This a Lovely Day (to Be Caught in the Rain)?". Set in a spacious gazebo, the scene is notable (to me, anyway) for Ginger's costume- instead of her usual flowing gown, she's wearing a riding outfit, which means: PANTS! So often her footwork is a bit lost in the folds of her dresses (which do produce a lovely effect), so it was nice to see her freer and more exposed. I know this isn't the only time she wears pants for a dance number, but it's been a while since I've seen it happen.

Shallow, lighthearted, and ludicrous, Top Hat doesn't set out to make its audience think very hard, but as a fun, escapist musical after a rough day it hits the spot.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Shall We Dance, perhaps? Or Swing Time.

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