Top Hat

  • Title:  Top Hat
  • Director:  Mark Sandrich
  • Date:  1935
  • Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures
  • Genre:  Musical, Comedy, Romance
  • Cast:  Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, Helen Broderick
  • Words and Music:  Irving Berlin
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Oh, that call wasn’t for me, it was for you. Somebody has registered a complaint.” – Horace Hardwicke (Edward Everett Horton)
“I know! I’ve just seen the complaint and she’s lovely, she’s delightful, she’s charming, and she wants to sleep.” – Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire)

“May I rescue you?” – Jerry
“No thank you. I prefer to be in distress.” – Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers)

“You want this show to last two nights? Get me a plane, now!” – Jerry
“What kind of plane?” – Horace
“One with wings!” – Jerry

Top Hat  is a a romantic comedy filled with mistaken identities and misunderstandings, and music! Like any farce, it’s the type of plot that would be resolved in five minutes if anyone in the cast actually talked to each other for five minutes, rather than making assumptions. But that’s not really a negative – because it’s light, frothy romance with no harsh realities at all. The sets are marvelously art deco and beautiful – especially the Venice hotel with it’s waterways and boats.

The story begins in London, with Jerry Travers waiting in a very quiet English gentleman’s club for his friend Horace. The club is one where Silence Must Be Observed at all times, and everyone stares at Jerry when he drops something, or turns the page of his newspaper. Horace finds Jerry, starts to talk to him, then realizes where he is, and urges Jerry to leave so they can talk. Just as he’s leaving, Jerry does a quick tap dance on the floor simply to annoy everyone – and as a joke.

Horace takes Jerry to his hotel, Jerry – excited about seeing Horace, and their new show, begins tapping in his hotel room (“No Strings (I’m Fancy Free)”) – waking up the young woman in the hotel suite below. She calls to complain to the manager. Horace takes the call, gets confused, and goes down to the hotel desk to tell the manager he doesn’t want a young woman in his hotel room because it wouldn’t be proper. Meanwhile, Dale goes to the hotel suite and complains. Dale doesn’t introduce herself – and Jerry’s so taken with her, he doesn’t introduce himself either. This proves to actually be a very important part of the plot.

The next day, Jerry goes to the hotel flower shop and orders that all the flowers be sent to Ms. Tremont’s room (by room number) – then charges the very expensive bill to Horace by his room number.

Horace, afraid that Dale might be a “designing woman” sets his valet, Bates, to following her. This is another part of the plot that’s considerably more important than it seems. Horace also warns Jerry off, telling him about a woman he met called Violet who took advantage of him.

Meanwhile, we learn Dale is a social model. A dress designer named Alberto Belleni pays her to wear his dresses, so her friends will see them, ask about them, and he will get more contracts to design dresses and sell more of his designs. But, since he’s financially supporting her – this is something not good for Horace to find out as he’d get the wrong idea. Dale is also close friends with his wife, Madge.

Jerry tries to meet Dale again, she rebuffs him – mentioning she’s going for a ride in the park. Jerry gives her a ride to her lesson in the park, and again tries to get her interested in him without luck. During her ride, Dale gets caught in the rain. She shelters in a gazebo. Jerry arrives and tries to calm her down by telling her a story about clouds. He then sings “Isn’t it a Lovely Day? (To get Caught in the Rain)” to her, and the two dance in partner tap. Ginger is wearing jodphur-pants. Fred and Ginger also mirror each other beautifully when dancing. At the end of their dance the two sit down on the edge of the raised gazebo platform – and shake hands. It’s a gesture between partners.

Later at the hotel, Ginger asks the concierge to point out Horace. The concierge points to “the man with the briefcase and cane” on the walkway. But Horace runs into Jerry and hands him his briefcase and cane – thus making Dale think he’s her friend Madge’s husband. This type of thing continuously happens – Dale keeps thinking that Jerry is Horace, and thus her friend’s husband and a terrible cad to boot.

Jerry is in the middle of his show, changing between acts, when Horace reads his wife’s telegram and finds out she and Dale are heading off to Venice. Jerry insists they hire a charter plane and go to Venice as well.

The production number, part of Jerry’s show, is “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” which has Astaire dancing with a chorus of men in formal wear. During the dance he “shoots” the men with his cane. His short tap dancing routine gets a standing ovation from the audience.

In Venice, Dale meets up with Madge, and they meet the sea plane – but Dale isn’t there when Madge says hello to Jerry – whom Madge actually wants to set-up with Jerry.  The hotel is full – so Horace and Jerry end up sharing the bridal suite, while Madge and Dale share their own suite.

Bellani, thinking that Horace has designs on Dale confronts him, but Horace has no idea what’s going on.

Dale talks to Madge about her husband’s flirting. Madge says she knows he flirts, but it doesn’t mean anything. Dale decides to “teach him a lesson” and goes to his room to throw herself at him – and again runs into Jerry. Jerry turns the tables and flirts back.

Later, at dinner, Madge, Jerry, and Dale meet – but no introductions are made, as Dale insists she knows who Jerry is (she still thinks he’s Madge’s husband Horace). Fred and Ginger dance to “Cheek to Cheek”, with Ginger in the beautiful, floaty, feather dress. It’s ballroom dance that begins with the two in the midst of a crowded dance floor, and moves to the two dancing on a patio that resembles an even bigger version of the gazebo from earlier. There is also some side by side and partner tap, with the two mirroring each other beautifully. But when Jerry proposes – Dale thinks he’s Madge’s husband, and slaps him.

Alberto Belleni flirts with Dale, and proposes to her. She accepts him but insists they must be married immediately.

Jerry, in a last ditch effort to get Dale to listen to him has Horace distract Belleni, and goes to talk to Dale. He takes her on a boat ride on the water – and finally explains who he is.

Meanwhile, Bates reports to Horace that Dale and Jerry are drifting out to sea. Horace, Madge, and Belleni go off in a boat to “rescue” Dale and Jerry.

Dale and Jerry return, happy at last, but concerned about her quick marriage and how to dissolve it. Dale rushes off. Bates tells Jerry that Madge, Horace, and Belleni went off in a boat from which he’d “removed the gasoline” while disguised as a gondolier. The local police arrest Bates for his impersonation.

There is a production number instrumental of “The Piccolino”, which starts with Bugby Berkeley-styled dancers. Then the camera changes to a much happier Dale singing “The Piccolino” to Jerry. Then the perspective switches back to the elaborate production number.

Fred and Ginger dance – tap and ballroom, mirroring each other in tap. Their dance is full frame and uncut. Ginger’s dress is sparkly with a trumpet skirt. They dance back to their table, saluting each other with champagne glasses.

Horace, Madge, and Belleni return. That Horace is Madge’s husband is confirmed, as is the blossoming romance between Dale and Jerry. Just as everyone is wondering what they will do, Bates arrives and states he had been following Dale everywhere, and he had earlier disguised himself as a clergyman by turning his collar around. Belleni states, “But you were the one who married us!” Dale responds, “Then we were never really married!” And she rushes off in Jerry’s arms!

List of Musical Numbers

  • No Strings (I’m Fancy Free)
  • Isn’t This a Lovely Day (To be Caught in the Rain)?
  • Top Hat, White Tie and Tails
  • Cheek to Cheek
  • The Piccolino

Top Hat  is a simple, romantic comedy – fueled by mistaken identities, coincidences, and misunderstandings, where, of course, in the end – everything works out. But it features some of Irving Berlin’s best songs and Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger’s best dances. The sets, especially the boats in the waterway, are wonderful – and the Art Deco just shines. The dances are filmed full-frame and often without cuts. Certainly, there’s no cuts to faces and feet – which means one can follow the dance and focus on Fred and Ginger’s artistry. There are two ensemble production numbers – Fred’s tap dance with a male chorus, which is part of the show he’s been hired for as a professional dancer; and “The Piccolino”. “The Piccolino” is a wonderful production number – but it seems out of place in Tap Hat. It starts as a elaborate production number, switches to show Ginger singing, switches back to a production number, then switches a fourth time to Fred and Ginger dancing. The production part is full of fast cuts, and elaborate patterns, using ribbons. In short, it looks like a Bugsy Berkeley musical. But when “The Piccolino” focuses on Fred and Ginger dancing together, it becomes one of their signature-style dances – shown full frame, in a single shot without cuts, with Fred and Ginger both tap dancing (briefly) and ballroom dancing. So overall, though very elaborate, it works.  Top Hat is one of my favorite Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films, along with Swing Time and Shall We Dance. For many, it is the quintessential film for the pair.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Truman Show

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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