Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gingertennial/ Swing Time

Today July 16, 2011 marks the 100th birthday of Ginger Rogers. Normally I would not be writing up some actor or actresses’ birthday to me it is a bit silly but I truly admire and adore Ginger Rogers so “seems a sin I’ve got to give in…”
            Ginger was born Virginia Katherine McMath in Independence, Missouri. She lived there with her mother Lela and grandparents until her mother moved her out to California. At the age of seventeen Ginger’s long career in show business began when she won a Charleston contest. From this point she stared in the movies and on Broadway. After success on Broadway (which she starred in a show with Fred Astaire) Hollywood came calling and she accepted. Ginger had some success with Paramount at first before she wanted to be let go. She went to RKO where she was let go, went back to Broadway, made a film, and was resigned with RKO.
            In 1933, Ginger made her first of nine films with Fred Astaire Flying Down to Rio. The pair stole the film from its two leads. RKO saw how well they fit together and put them into another film together the following year called The Gay Divorcee. The pair would make all their best pictures together in the 1930s but Ginger made plenty of films without Fred including the hysterically fabulous Vivacious Lady with James Stewart, Stage Door with Katharine Hepburn and Adolphe Menjou, and Finishing School with Frances Dee.
With Katharine Hepburn in Stage Door

With Frances Dee in Finishing School

            Ginger made her last film with Astaire in 1939 The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. When the forties rolled around Ginger was on top. In 1940 Ginger won the Academy Award for her role of the title character in the tear jerker Kitty Foyle (and deserved it. I do not cry easily in movies and this one made me cry). The following year she again played the title character in Roxie Hart which is probably one of her greatest roles as well as most hysterical.
            Having been in the movies for so many decades Ginger was able to play all sorts of characters from the quick witted modern girl, the elegant love struck dancer, a flapper, a hard working girl, a killer (yes I said “killer”!), down to a traveling saleslady.

            My love for Ginger Rogers all started two years ago on Thanksgiving. That day TCM was having a marathon of all the Astaire and Rogers films. I was calling myself a classic film fan but at the time I had never seen of the famous dancing duo’s films. I wound up recording just Swing Time, Top Hat, and Shall We Dance since my DVR would have combusted with all ten plus all the movies and such my brothers had recorded. The first of their films I sat through was Swing Time and I am so happy that this was my first Astaire and Rogers’ film.
            So without further ado for Ginger’s 100th birthday celebration I will review my first Ginger film I have ever watched and where my adoration for this wonderful actress began.

“Nothing’s impossible I have found for when my chin is on the ground I pick myself up dust myself off and start all over again.”

            Depending on what article or essay or review you happen to read many people consider either Top Hat or Swing Time to be the best of the musicals made by the legendary dancing duo Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Swing Time is the sixth musical Astaire and Rogers had made together and it is the pair’s best story and acting wise. When the film was released it was a success in every way: it won the Academy Award for Best Song with “The Way You Look Tonight” and played to sold out capacity at Radio City Musical Hall in NYC which has six thousand seats.
            John “Lucky” Garnett works as a dancer and singer in a chorus for a nightclub. He is set to marry a girl whose family does not approve of what he does. The other guys in the chorus do not want Lucky to marry this girl since they know how much he loves what he does and he is also the one who brings in the money. Lucky does one last show on the day he is to be married. Since the guys do not want him to go they make him late and not giving him a phone message.
            By the time Lucky gets to his wedding all the guests have gone and the supposed to be bride are furious with him. Lucky tells them he can get a real job along with $25,000 so he can come back and get married. The father really likes this idea and Lucky is off along with his friend Pop to New York to earn his money.
            Upon arriving in the city Lucky and Pop already land themselves in some trouble. They run into a girl asking her for a quarter. The girl drops her things and the two men help her out with Pop helping himself to some of her change. The girl notices her change is missing and causes a scene. A police officer comes over but he thinks Lucky is a wealthy man because he still wearing his tuxedo. The office lets the whole thing go and tells everyone to move on. Lucky comes upon a dance studio and once inside notices that the girl is a dance instructor.
            The girl’s name is Penny Carroll and she is none too happy to see Lucky but he insists that she teach him how to dance. He fakes not knowing to dance and acts really clumsy. Penny tells him at one point that she is unable to teach him anything but her boss hears and fires her. Lucky thinks quickly and breaks out in a dance making it look like Penny taught him the dance and they start to dance together.

            Penny’s boss likes the way they dance together so he calls an owner of a club that he knows and tells them about Lucky and Penny. He gets them an audition that night but Lucky does not have any dinner clothes. Lucky is a gambler so Pop brings back a very drunk man so they can play him for his dinner clothes. Unfortunately Lucky is losing and he is so late the audition is called off. Penny is furious with him and will not speak to him so he sets up a picket line outside her hotel room. He gets into the room eventually and he apologizes by singing the beautiful song “The Way You Look Tonight” and all is forgiven.
            Penny and Lucky do get the gig at the nightclub and everything is going very well. They are making money for the club and Lucky having gambled on the bandleader’s contract is now half partner. The two dancers begin to fall in love but then comes the conflict which tears them apart until the end of the film before they get back together.
            I am so very happy that Swing Time was my first Astaire and Rogers film. If I had seen any of their other films before this I would not have loved them especially Ginger as much as I do now. The plot was not too overdrawn or silly. The acting by the entire cast was fabulous and so perfect. I adore every single song and every single dance routine from the film especially “Pick Yourself Up” and “Never Gonna Dance.” Whenever I hear “Pick Yourself Up” I instantly feel so much better. “Never Gonna Dance” is such a beautiful song of longing and a final goodbye to someone loved. The dance routines to these songs are awesome I can watch them over and over again.
            In her autobiography Ginger quotes Charles Dickens when he was asked to name his favorite book he had written and he said “I love them all- but in my heart-of-hearts I have a favorite child and his name is David Copperfield.” Ginger then went on to say “Well, though I love all the films I made with Fred Astaire, I, too have a favorite child, and it is Swing Time.” She explains that George Stevens, a director whom she admired, directed the films and he knew how to properly direct and work with actresses. Her previous films with Fred had been directed by Mark Sandrich who was not nice to Ginger and always kept the camera on Fred even if she was speaking most of the time. She finally had more screen time and more dialogue and Stevens “was always delighted when [she] added something new” and she was unafraid to express herself as an actress which clearly shows. Ginger looks relaxed and as if she is enjoying herself the whole time.
            Eric Blore, Victor Moore, and Helen Broderick round out the rest of the main cast. These three character actors add so much hilarity to film and make it even more entertaining.
            Swing Time is just a funny, happy musical to watch. I remember after I had watched the film for the first time I was totally in love with Fred and Ginger. That Christmas I was the proud owner of the Astaire and Rogers musical boxset and it is one of my most prized boxsets I own.
            If you have ever seen Swing Time you know perfectly well how much I adore this film because I am sure you feel the same way. Their other films are good along with Swing Time I can forever watch Follow the Fleet I think it is so cute. If you have not seen any of the Astaire and Rogers musicals than Swing Time is definitely the one to start with.

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