The recommendations from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book for my screening of Top Hat gets underway with the first pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in this 1933 classic.
Roger Bond (Gene Raymond) is a band leader, and a bit of a flirt, often losing as many jobs as he gets, when he hits on the wrong woman. But when he and his band, the Yankee Clippers, meet the lovely Belinha (Dolores del Rio), he and the group follow her down to Brazil, and the band, and we, realize that things could be real for this flirt for the first time. The bad news is, she’s already engaged. Her fiancée just happens to be an old friend of Roger’s, Julio (Paul Roulien).
Rogers plays Honey Hale, one of the lead vocalists, Astaire is Fred Ayres, assistant band leader, and they steal most every scene they are in. It’s easy to see why they became such stars, and a wonderful on-screen pairing. Big sets (they truly don’t make them like this anymore, big art deco that are not quite gaudy or gauche, and always amazing to see as the camera traverses it – The Aviator’s Club is a prime example, I LOVE IT!), big numbers fill out this wonderfully melodramatic piece of musical fluff.
Watching Astaire as Ayres try to warn him off lends some rather comedic moments to the film, and despite the fact that he’s best used in a lead role, he does a wonderful one in a supporting one as well.
There are misunderstandings, comedic beats, great lines, fun gags… in fact this one is rather charming, though neither Raymond or del Rio are as strong performers as Astaire and Rogers.
And even in black and white, there are some stunning shots of Brazil.
While Roger pursues his heart’s desire, the band is left to worry about if their sound or not will work in Rio, and Aryes and Hale show off the local dances in some wonderfully staged and choreographed sequences.
Of course, in the end, a happy resolution is had, and Roger and Belinha end up together, but I was always much happier seeing Astaire and Rogers together. In fact, that’s how I know they were the stronger performers in this film. When Raymond or del Rio aren’t around, I didn’t notice, but take Fred or Ginger off the screen, and I was left thinking ‘where are they?’ They bring this film to life, and in fact it is their performances that make the film as charming as it is.
I can’t wait to see what is next from their catalogue when I dig into the next recommendation. These two, and I know I’m not saying anything new here, were a fantastic pairing, and they make me want to put my dancing shoes on!