The Gay Divorcee

  • Title:  The Gay Divorcee
  •  Director:  Mark Sandrich
  • Date:  1934
  • Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures
  • Genre:  Musical, Romance, Comedy
  • Cast:  Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Alice Brady, Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, Betty Grable
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Guy, you’re not pining for that girl?” — Egbert Fitzgerald
“Pining?  Men don’t pine, girls pine.  Men just suffer.”  — Guy Holden

“Chance is the fool’s name for Fate.” —  Guy Holden (becomes a catch-phrase of the film)

Guy Holden (Fred Astaire) is a professional dancer, who bumps into Mimi Glossop (Ginger Rogers) quite accidentally.  He’s taken a steam ship to England for vacation.  She’s only on the ship after boarding to pick-up her Aunt, who is dragged off  by a custom inspector.  Prior to leaving, Mimi’s aunt, Hortense Ditherwell (Alice Brady), accidentally locks her skirt in her steamer trunk – then runs off  with the key.  Guy happens by, tries to help, but only succeeds in ripping her skirt.  Mimi is upset so he lends her his coat.  But he’s smitten.  Mimi returns the coat but without an address for him to reach her.  He searches London for her, but has no luck.  After two weeks, Guy’s good friend, a lawyer named Egbert (Edward Everett Horton) convinces him to leave London and go to Brighton for a nice seaside vacation.

Meanwhile, Mimi has seen Egbert as well, in his official capacity as a lawyer.  She wants a divorce, but her husband, whom she’s barely seen over the last two years, won’t grant her one.  Egbert suggests her only recourse is to go to a seaside resort, to get caught in flagrante delicto with a correspondent (or a man who makes his living doing this).  Mimi also heads to Brighton.

Mimi and Guy run into each other, and begin to get along.  Then Guy casually tells her, “Chance is the fool’s name for fate”.  Unfortunately, he’d used the phrase before with Egbert, who liked it so much that he told Mimi that would be the password of her correspondent.  Meanwhile, he tells the correspondent (Erik Rhodes) the password, but the poor man is Italian, and his English is very bad, so he mangles the phrase every time he repeats it to various women at the resort.  Mimi invites Guy to her room so they can get caught, but due to the misunderstanding with the catch-phrase, she misunderstands many of the things Guy says, and she gets more and more mad at him.

Aunt Hortense, and Guy’s friend, Egbert, end up finding the correspondent and bring him to Mimi and Guy, the mess with Mimi’s mistake is straightened out and Astaire and Rogers dance the show-stopping “The Continental”.  The next morning, Mimi’s husband arrives, but finding her with the Italian refuses to believe there was an affair, and forgives her.  Mimi brings in Guy and he starts to waver.  Then the waiter comes in and points out that “Mr. Brown” had been at the resort before with his wife (not Mimi), and thus the divorce will be granted.  The finale is a reprise of  “The Continental” as Guy and Mimi dance together having now been married (probably, from their clothes and the fact that they seem to be sharing an hotel room).

Musical Numbers

  • Don’t Let It Bother You – Vocals – Chorus
  • Don’t Let It Bother You – Dance, Astaire (Fast tap, solo)
  • A Needle in a Haystack – Vocals – Astaire, Dance – Astaire
  • Let’s Knock K-nees –  Vocals – Chorus and Edward Everett Horton, Dance – Chorus
  • Night and Day – Vocals – Astaire, Dance – Astaire and Rogers
  • The Continental – Vocals – Rogers,
  • The Continental – Dance – Astaire and Rogers
  • The Continental – Dance full chorus ensemble
  • The Continental – Dance Astaire and Rogers (Finale)

“The Continental” is one of  the few Busby Berkley-styled numbers in an Astaire and Rogers film – and this is only the second film they did, chronologically.  The number is very impressive, but doesn’t have the intimacy of later dances in other pictures.  However, “Night and Day” is the film’s sweet, romantic dance between Astaire and Rogers, as he’s finally found this woman he’s fallen for, and she’s slowly drawn to him.  “The Continental”, by contrast, is a very showy, impressive dance, and both the Astaire/Rogers portions and the chorus portion (with the strong, contrasting black and white dresses and full suits with tails) are an excellent example of not only really good Broadway style dancing, but also excellent black and white photography and use of contrast.  The lines of dancers in alternating black and white, and even dresses that are half  black/half white form patterns and are just impressive.  Directors at the time knew how to use black and white photography to their advantage.  However, the short reprise of  “The Continental” with Astaire and Rogers dancing in their hotel room, including, over a breakfast nook table, is very romantic and intimate, and beautifully shot.  This film also has two separate dances where Fred performs his “triple” as I call it — both feet off the ground, body absolutely straight, including both legs, angled to the floor, and a triple scissor flourish.  It’s an fantastic move because Astaire is completely off  the ground so long, he almost appears to hang in the air.  The man was that good.  And, yeah, it’s like he could float on air.

The_Continental

The plot of The Gay Divorcee is that of a light, romantic comedy.  The film is based on a Broadway play, which had also starred Astaire, and was actually titled, The Gay Divorce.  The Hollywood production code actually made a note on the film that, “there is nothing happy about divorce”, and thus forced the change in the title.  This film also showcases many of the bit players (Alice Brady, Eric Blore, Erik Rhodes, Edward Everett Horton) and ensemble actors who are sometimes but not always in the Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers RKO musicals.  Though I wouldn’t call it one of the three best Fred & Ginger musicals, it could easily place fourth.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating: 4
Next Film:  Get Smart

Follow the Fleet

  • Title:  Follow the Fleet
  • Director:  Mark Sandrich
  • Date:  1936
  • Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures
  • Genre:  Musical, Romance, Comedy
  • Lyrics and Music:  Irving Berlin
  • Cast:  Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Randolph Scott, Harriet Hilliard, Lucille Ball, Betty Grable, Astrid Allwyn
  • Format:  Black and White, Standard
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Say, Will you guys let me forget I was once a hoofer?”  Bake Baker

“Sorry, miss, it’s the rules of the Paradise, no girls are allowed in without an escort.”  — Ticket Girl
“Oh, I see, women aren’t even admitted to Paradise without a man.” — Connie Martin

“But I bet you’re used to seeing pretty girls all over the world.”” –Connie
“I never give them a tumble, sister, women don’t interest me.”  — Bilge Smith

Follow the Fleet is another Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical where, unfortunately, they play second fiddle.  The main romance is between Connie (Harriet Hillard) and Bilge (Randolph Scott) – and Hillard even sings, unfortunately.  Fred and Ginger do have a lot to do, but as the “B plot” of the film.  Astaire plays Bake Baker, an ex-hoofer, or dancer, now in the Navy.  Ginger is Sherry Martin, his former dance partner, now trying to make it on her own with a career in show business.  Connie is Sherry’s sister, a music teacher.  And Bilge is Bake’s best friend aboard his ship.  By the way, keep in mind, this film is from 1936, or before World War II; thus this is a peace-time Navy.

When Bilge and Bake’s ship makes port in San Francisco, they, as well as a group of sailors, head into town for shore leave.  Bake runs into his old dancing partner again.  He had been in love with her, and had even proposed, but she turned him down to concentrate on her career.  Meanwhile, Bilge meets Connie, and they have a nice date.  However, he also meets Iris (Astrid Allwyn), who as the vivacious blonde, is much more his type, he thinks.  Bake promises to help Sherry find a better job in show business, but before he can do anything (and after he’s accidentally cost her her job at the Paradise club) all shore leave is cancelled and all the sailors have to return to their ships.

Connie is now head-over-heels in love with Bilge and doesn’t realise he’s fallen for Iris.  She decides to take out a loan to refurbish her father’s ship, which needs a lot of work.  Sherry gives Connie her savings to help as much as she can.  Sherry’s also angry at Bake for leaving her without the better job he promised her.

When the ship returns that Spring, Connie’s refurbished the ship, with help, but she also has a massive loan that’s due.  Sherry is still angry at Bake.  Bake is completely in love with Sherry, so much so that he’s decided to leave the Navy and go back to show business.  Bilge, though, thinks he’s in love with Iris, not Connie.  Sherry and Connie, with Bake’s help, decide to put on a show to raise funds to pay off Connie’s loan (in part because a family friend also helped, and now he’s in trouble for covering the debt).  Bake convinces Iris to perform “a small part” in the show, then writes a scene that Bilge is intended to over-hear, so he’ll get sore and run to Connie (it sort-of works).  Bake also gets himself  in trouble, hitting an officer he was told was harassing Sherry (a misunderstanding) and has to go AWOL to get to the show on time.  Bilge lets him go on-stage, once he is told the show was to help out Connie.  In the end, Sherry and Bake are together, with the promise of their own show once Bake finishes his term in the Navy (including his time in the brig) and Sherry even proposes to him.  Bilge and Connie are also together, though, like Bake, Bilge has to finish his term in the Navy before he can be master of his own ship and sail the world, with Connie, on her ship.

Musical Numbers

  • We Saw the Sea  — Fred Astaire and Ensemble, vocals
  • Let Yourself Go — Ginger Rogers, vocals
  • Get Thee Behind Me, Satan — Harriet Hilliard, vocals
  • I’d Rather Lead a Band — Fred Astaire, vocals (and tap dance) also dance with ensemble
  • Ginger’s solo tap dance, for her “audition”
  • Let Yourself Go — Ginger Rogers, vocals (reprise)
  • But Where Are You? — Harriet Hilliard, vocals
  • I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket (Piano) — Fred Astaire
  • I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket (Song) — Fred Astaire, vocals; Fred and Ginger, dance (tap)
  • Let’s Face the Music and Dance  — Fred Astaire, vocals; Fred and Ginger, dance (ballroom / waltz)

“Let’s Face the Music and Dance” is one of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers best numbers together, and it’s worth waiting through the entire picture to see it.  It’s highly unusual for a Fred and Ginger musical in that the number is part of the “show within a show” that the two characters, Bake and Sherry, and putting on for Sherry’s sister.  It’s the only number for the show within a show.  And, in a sense, it’s a ballet — it’s a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, told entirely through music, dance, and the expressions of the characters.  Fred is a gambling at a casino, but loses all his money; then he loses the girls that hovered around the table with him.  When he finds all the girls ignoring him, he goes to the roof of the casino hotel, takes out a pistol, and is considering shooting himself.  But, while on the rooftop, he runs into Ginger, who’s about to jump off the roof.  He rescues her, and the two dance a marvelous slow waltz to “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” (Fred provides vocals at the start, before it segues to the dance).  The dance is the perfect embodiment of romance that Fred and Ginger do so well, and it’s a story in and of itself.  And this despite the accident which occurred in the middle, where Ginger’s beaded gown accidentally hit Fred in the face (he continued anyway, and though other takes were done later, the first was the best and remained in the film, and yes, you can see the smack).

It is a shame that the relationship between smart and sassy, Sherry, and working-class, Bake, is the B plot, and Bilge and Connie are the “A plot”.  Randolph Scott really doesn’t seem to be any sort of a catch for Connie – he’s a bit of a cad.  But there you go, a rather uneven film, but with a fantastic dance at the end.  This is one of the Fred and Ginger musicals I owned on VHS video tape, that I replaced with DVD.

Recommendation:  Though not perfect, see it.
Rating:  3.5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Footloose