The quintessential Fred-and-Ginger vehicle, Top Hat features some of the most glorious, memorable dance sequences ever filmed. The Irving Berlin score includes perhaps the duo’s best-known number, "Cheek to Cheek," as well as Astaire’s signature solo number, "Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails."
Like many of their pictures, Top Hat opens with Fred making a bad first impression on Ginger, then spending much of the film trying to get on her good side. This device seems to fit Astaire’s insouciant, sometimes annoying screen persona, though he’s more sympathetic and likable here than in some pictures. Their early scenes, especially the sequence in the rain at the park band shell, are appropriately light and charming, with Ginger especially believable as the young woman annoyed but not entirely displeased by Fred’s attentions.
Then the plot takes a turn for farce with a contrived case of mistaken identity, as Ginger confuses Fred with her best friend’s husband. Suitably outraged, Ginger turns to her friend, who affects cynical unconcern to Ginger — though showing a different face to her bewildered, not entirely innocent husband.
Perhaps the most unusual element in the film is the unusual "gangster tap" finale to the big "Top Hat" production number, in which Fred wields a cane like a machine gun, with sharp raps of his heels for gunfire, and drops a line of tuxedoed dancers one by one. The gangster conceit may be part of the Depression milieu; certainly the film, with its glamorous, elegant trappings, is typically escapist Depression-era fare, laced with a hint of satire. In any case, whenever Fred and Ginger are in motion, the magic is timeless.
True to type, Crosby plays nice and Astaire shallow: Jim (Crosby) loves his dance partner and wants to marry her and settle down, but Ted (Astaire) wants to dance with her, and steals her away from Jim. Heartbroken, Jim retires to the Connecticut farm where he had hoped to settle down, but soon finds that show business is in his blood, and hits on the novel idea of turning his farmhouse into a dinner theater that operates only on holidays.
In a conceit both touching and surreal, Kelly plays an American ex-G.I. in Paris who’s never wanted anything but to paint, though he’s obviously the best hoofer in France.
Celebrating its 60th anniversary in style, Singin’ in the Rain comes to Blu-ray with an astoundingly good-looking new transfer of the best available film elements.
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Just read your review of Top Hat, and while it’s odd that you didn’t mention the killer performances by Helen Broderick, Eric Blore, and the brilliant Edward Everett Horton, I realize that there are space limitations.
Now, I know that the consensus viewpoint is sometimes, even often, wrong. But sometimes the consensus is right. I point this out because I have never heard anyone, even the tragically unimaginative types who don’t like Astaire/Rogers movies, refer to Astaire’s screen persona as “somewhat annoyng.”
Please tell me this is a typo, or you’d had a bad day, or you had someone else write the review for you, or that you weren’t thinking of Fred Astaire, you were thinking of Nicholas Cage.
Because, whether you enjoy these movies or not, it is simply an objective fact that Astaire is thoroughly charming and a gifted comedic actor, as well as a fine dancer. You might as well say Ginger Rogers isn’t pretty or doesn’t have a nice figure.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.