An all-star cast including William Powell as the legendary Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. bring this showcase musical to life. Being a recommended title from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book for my screening of Top Hat, I was ready to dive into it, but had no idea the epic size of the cast. This is not only another Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger’s film, instead, Astaire is prominently featured, but Rogers is nowhere to be seen, but the cast also includes, Lucille Ball, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Kathyrn Grayson, Lena Horne, Cyd Charisse, Hume Cronyn, Esther Williams and Red Skelton. That’s huge!!
Ziegfeld is looking down on earth from his place in heaven and recalling his past successes dreams of one, last, star-filled revue. He recalls his first show from 1907 recreated with puppets, and then when he wonders who he would use down on earth now, we dive into a collection of songs, dances, and comedy bits, each separate from the last with no connective tissue. And if you don’t like one number, just hold on a moment, as there will be another starting in just one moment.
There are some hits and misses, and for me, Red Skelton’s bit is one of my favorites in the entire set. It’s very funny, there are some wonderful physical gags that still elicit laughs and Skelton pulls some amazing faces.
This one, however is followed by one of my least favorite ones, because I found it a bit offensive. The number is supposed to take place in London’s Chinatown, and both Astaire and Bremer are made up with facial appliances to look Asian. Sigh.
There is another classic sequence though, and this one follows Astaire and Kelly as they meet in the number, The Babbit and the Bromide. They try to out dance one another, with the occasional kick to the backside, or a toss of a hat, and it makes for a lot of fun. And it’s fascinating to watch the two of them dance together, they are moving in the same steps but they both have different styles, Kelly comes across as more energetic, while Astaire seems refined, and it’s impossible not to love both of their performances.
Other stars seem to have blink and you miss them appearances, I almost didn’t recognize Lucille Ball, and both Lena Horne and Judy Garland deserved better numbers.
And it’s fascinating that these types of films are made anymore, big show-stopping musicals with over-sized sets, and recognizable names, all there for one thing, the spectacle.
There are a variety of musical numbers, different comedy styles, and extravagant costumes, it’s definitely something to see, but probably not engaging for all viewers.
I wonder where I’ll be following Astaire’s feet to next…