Swing Time

  • Title:  Swing Time
  • Director:  George Stevens
  • Date:  1936
  • Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures
  • Genre:  Musical, Comedy, Romance
  • Cast:  Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Helen Broderick, Eric Blore, Betty Furness
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“My talent  is gambling, Pop, hoofing is all right, but there’s no future in it.  I want to spread out.”– John “Lucky” Garnett (Fred Astaire)

“Listen, no one could teach you to dance in a million years!  Take my advice, and save your money.”– Penny (Ginger Rogers) to Lucky

“It’s funny how we met… and all that’s happened to us since.”– Penny
“The way we’ve been sorta’… thrown together and everything.”– Lucky
“As if  it were all meant to happen.”– Penny
“It’s quite an experience.”– Lucky
“No, it’s more than an experience.  It’s sorta like… a romance.”– Penny

Swing Time is one of my three favorite Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals (the other two being Shall We Dance and Top Hat).  This time, Fred plays John “Lucky” Garnett, a professional dancer who’s about to marry his high school sweetheart.  The guys in his touring dance troop know they will be out of a job if Garnett leaves the stage for marriage and a serious job, so they arrange for him to be hours late for his own wedding.  When he misses the wedding the girl’s father actually makes a deal with Garnett… if he can make $25,000 then he will let him marry his daughter.  Lucky takes the challenge and goes off to the city to make his fortune.

In a large city, presumably New York, he runs into a girl, Penny Carroll (Ginger Rogers).  He follows her and finds out she’s an “instructress” at a dance studio.  Deciding to have a little fun, he dances badly, causing several prat falls with Penny… who gets so frustrated she tells him no one will ever be able to teach him to dance, he should save his money.  Unfortunately, her boss over-hears this and fires her and her maiden aunt (Helen Broderick).  Lucky feels bad and decides to show Penny’s boss that she has taught him a thing or two and the two dance together.  Penny’s boss is so impressed he gets them an audition at the Silver Sandles club.

Unfortunately, unbeknownest to Penny, Lucky is flat broke, he only has the wedding clothes he’s wearing to his name.  He sends his friend Pops to get some money, but Pops isn’t as good a gambler as Lucky.  He brings a drunken gambler to Lucky’s for a game of “strip pichet” (no idea… a card game that looked like some version of gin).  Lucky’s never played the game before and loses.

Penny gets mad at Lucky for blowing their audition.  But he gets them a second tryout.  She relents after he sings to her while her hair is covered in shampoo.  At the club, they dance together on the crowded dance floor, but before they can perform their number… the orchestra leader cancels and leaves.  He’s had a crush on Penny for awhile, and refuses to play to see her dance for another man.

Lucky gambles again for the orchestra… and wins it.  He and Penny get their audition.  Penny and Lucky, with the orchestra become a star attraction, and the owner of the Silver Sandals offers Lucky 50 percent of the take.  Mindful of his deal with his ex-fiancee’s father, he argues it down to 25 percent.  He’d earlier quit his bets at the roulette wheel because he was afraid of winning too much.

Lucky, Penny, Pop, and Mabel (Penny’s maiden aunt) head out to the country to relax, even though it’s the dead of winter and it’s snowing.

They return to the city and the Silver Sandals is re-opening after it’s make-over.  Ricardo, the band leader, tries to give Penny jewelry and she refuses it.  Mabel challenges Penny to kiss Lucky.  She’s determined to, loses her nerve, and then they do… off screen, hidden by a open door.

Lucky, with his dancers and chorus girls, dances to “Bojangles of  Harlem” as the new opening number of the club.

Margaret, Lucky’s ex-fiancee arrives at the club.  Pops plays card tricks with some wise guys in the audience of the club.  Unfortunately, they are the ones Lucky won the orchestra from.  Even worse… they now know Pops palmed the Ace for Lucky… something even Lucky hadn’t realized.  Confronted with the evidence that he cheated, Lucky decides to re-draw cards, and loses.

Penny finds out about Lucky gambling… and losing… and gets really upset, and even more upset when she finds out about Lucky’s ex-fiancee.

Ricardo (the orchestra leader) proposes to Penny, and in a fit of pique she accepts him.

Fred sings “Never Gonna Dance” to her and they dance together, but it is a dance of  love and loss, and at the top of  the Silver Sandals set, the two part company.

But Margaret is there to give John a “Dear John” letter… she’s fallen in love with someone else. Meanwhile Lucky is completely in love with Penny. In the end, Pops and Lucky pull the same gag with cuffed trousers on Ricardo as his band had pulled on Lucky in the prologue, giving Lucky enough time to talk to Penny and stop the wedding.

List of  Musical Numbers

  • Pick Yourself  Up – Fred and Ginger vocals, and dance – Ballroom & Partner Tap
  • The Way You Look Tonight – Fred, vocals
  • Waltz in Swing Time – Fred and Ginger, dance – Ballroom & Partner Tap
  • A Fine Romance – Ginger and Fred vocals
  • Bojangles of Harlem – Fred & Chorus – dance
  • Never Gonna Dance – Fred, vocals – Fred and Ginger – Ballroom Dance
Swing Time is just pure fun.  Fred and Ginger are in fine form, and the picture mixes romance with comedy and irony.  For example, Fred sings the lovely ballad, “The Way You Look Tonight” to Ginger — while her hair is covered in shampoo and she’s annoyed with him, rather than in a traditional romantic setting.  “A Fine Romance” is a sarcastic song with both Fred and Ginger spitting lyrics like – “A Fine Romance… with no kisses”.  The film also uses the RKO Players like Eric Blore and Helen Broderick to fill in the comedy moments of  the plot.  The only real out of place number is “Bojangles of Harlem” which is, unfortunately, done with Astaire in blackface.  Otherwise, it’s a fine number (which includes Astaire dancing with three shadows… that suddenly start to not follow him).  But yeah, dated, is the kindest word for it.  The Silver Sandals set is a lovely two-level art deco set with a black and white dance floor below, and a shining black dance floor above.  The two floors are connected by two staircases, one on each side of the main dance area. The picture in the banner of this review is of Fred and Ginger dancing “Never Gonna Dance” on the beautiful Art Deco Silver Sandals set. The set is used particularly well when Fred and Ginger dance to “Never Gonna Dance” — a song of love and loss, that ends with them parting, which at that point in the plot they do.  It’s lovely.
Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Thin Man
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