Friday, January 20, 2017

2017 Blind Spot Series: Swing Time

Based on the story Portrait of John Garnett by Erwin S. Gelsey, Swing Time is the story of a gambler who tries to win over his fiancée’s father by making it as a dancer when he finds himself falling for his own dance partner. Directed by George Stevens and screenplay by Howard Lindsay and Allan Scott, the film is a musical that explores a man trying to prove his worth as well as get caught up into his own ideas of romance. Starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Helen Broderick, Victor Moore, Eric Blore, and Georges Metaxa. Swing Time is an enchanting and evocative film from George Stevens.

The film is a simple story of a man whose gambling problem forces him to travel to New York City to settle his debts and prove himself worthy of marrying his fiancée where he works as part of a dance duo with another dancer whom he would fall for. It’s a film that play into a man who has done a lot to ruin himself as he always gets roped into one thing yet has the love and talent to do something else. Upon taking the one thing he’s really good at to use, he would realize he has something to offer but also someone to share it with. The film’s screenplay doesn’t just play into the plight that John “Lucky” Garnett (Fred Astaire) endures but also what he has to do to succeed in order to pay off his debts and marry his fiancee. Yet, he would have to flee his small hometown in order to do that where he’s joined by friend Pop Cardetti (Victor Moore) to New York City where they bump into a dancer/dance instructor in Penelope “Penny” Carroll (Ginger Rogers).

She is desperate to make it but needs the right partner as she is also linked to a renowned band leader in Ricardo Romero (Georges Metaxa). While the script does follow conventional aspects of romance and comedy, it does have something that is quite playful but also not wanting to take itself so seriously. Notably as the characters of Cardetti and Penny’s friend Mabel Anderson (Helen Broderick) provide some funny commentary as they deal with the chaos that is around them. Even as they become aware of the attraction between Lucky and Penny yet they would also deal with the fact that Lucky is engaged to someone else and they have a chance together to make it big.

George Stevens’ direction is definitely stylish for not just the musical numbers but also for the approach to comedy and drama. Though it is mostly shot on soundstages, the film does have moments outside of the soundstages as it play into bits of adventure where Stevens’ usage of wide and medium shots doesn’t just capture the scope of a location but also in some of the dance numbers. Aided by choreographer Hermes Pan, Stevens approach to staging the musical numbers doesn’t just have something that is intimate but also be presented to establish the movement and rhythm of the dance. Many of the numbers are presented in one entire take with crane and dolly-tracking shots as it shows the sense of gracefulness and beauty into the dancing which definitely help drive the story. The non-musical moments are just as potent as Stevens’ direction where he uses some nice medium shots and close-ups to capture the growing relationship between Lucky and Penny as it play into some of the dramatic conflict as find ways to use music to help express these emotions without needing to do too much. Overall, Stevens creates a majestic and intoxicating film about a man who teams up with a woman to pay off his debts through dance.

Cinematographer David Abel does excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white photography for the way some of the daytime exteriors are shot with some unique lighting for some of the interiors including in the dance numbers. Editor Henry Berman does brilliant work with the editing as it help play into the rhythm of the dancing as well as some of the comedic moments. Art director Van Nest Polglase, with set/costume designer John W. Harkrider and gown designer Bernard Newman, does amazing work with the design of the dance studio Penny works at as well as the dance halls with Harkrider designing the sets for the film‘s climax with Newman creating the gorgeous gowns that Penny wears.

Sound recordist Hugh McDowell Jr. and sound editor George Marsh do superb work with the sound in the way some of the sound effects is presented as well as some of the comical moments in the film. The film’s music by Jerome Kern with songs co-written with lyricist Dorothy Fields is definitely a highlight of the film with Kern’s music presented with such lush and playful orchestration in the string arrangements while the songs definitely help tell the story with the big standout being The Way You Look Tonight as it is truly some of the finest music ever recorded.

The film’s marvelous cast feature some notable small roles from Betty Furness as Lucky’s fiancee Margaret, Landers Stevens as Margaret’s father who doesn’t like Lucky, Eric Blore as Penny’s old boss Mr. Gordon, and Georges Metaxa in a superb as bandleader Ricardo Romero as this vain man who adores Penny yet is kind of full of himself. Helen Broderick is fantastic as Mabel Anderson as this secretary/friend of Penny who helps Penny and Lucky while being this witty observer who has good rapport with Pops. Victor Moore is excellent as Pop Cardetti as a friend of Lucky who tries to handle every aspect of business while being a great card cheat who can help Lucky win.

Finally, there’s the duo of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in incredible performances in their respective roles as John “Lucky” Garnett and Penelope “Penny” Carroll. Astaire has that sense of charm and comic timing in playing the hapless Astaire while Rogers is more straightforward yet is also funny as she is someone that is more determined. Astaire and Rogers together just have this electrifying chemistry that is just insatiable to watch as well as the way both sing and dance together as they both put on a clinic that makes them so fun to watch.

Swing Time is a spectacular and dazzling film from George Stevens that features sensational performances from Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Along with great supporting performances from Victor Moore and Helen Broderick as well as top-notch dancing, amazing direction, and a phenomenal music soundtrack. The film is truly a musical that doesn’t just capture a sense of joy but it’s backed by an engaging story with characters that audiences can root for. In the end, Swing Time is a tremendous film from George Stevens.

George Stevens Films: (The Cohens and the Kellys in Trouble) - (Kentucky Kernals) - (Bachelor Bait) - (Laddie) - (The Nitwits) - (Alice Adams) - (Annie Oakley) - (Quality Street) - (A Damsel in Distress (1937 film)) - (Vivacious Lady) - (Gunga Din) - (Vigil in the Night) - (Penny Serenade) - (Woman of the Year) - (The Talk of the Town (1942 film)) - (The More the Merrier) - (That Justice Be Done) - (On Our Merry Way) - (I Remember Mama) - A Place in the Sun - (Something to Live For) - Shane - Giant (1956 film) - (The Diary of Anne Frank) - (The Greatest Story Ever Told) - (The Only Game in Town)

© thevoid99 2017


keith71_98 said...

Isn't it just wonderful. It has been sooo long since I've seen this. Actually I'm not sure if I've seen the entire film. I just remember it leaving an impression. I need to give it another look.

Brittani Burnham said...

This sounds like something I would really love. I'll have to check it out.

thevoid99 said...

@keith71_98-It is truly an amazing film as I just had fun watching Fred and Ginger dance as I wish I could dance like those 2.

@Brittani-Having recently seen La La Land, this film definitely gives you an idea of what the musicals were and man, you too would want to dance. It's such a fun film.

Anonymous said...

My Grandma is a huge fan of this film, think it's about time I watched it. Wonderfully written review, my movie list grows.

thevoid99 said...

@vinnieh-I've never seen a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film as I often heard this is the best place to start and man, I wanna check out more of the films they did together. Rogers' legs must've cost a lot of money for insurance reasons. I would've had them insured for a trillion dollars.

joel65913 said...

Love this film, that holds true for all their films together but I've always been particularly fond of their dance routine to "Pick Yourself Up" in this.

The stories are mostly incidental in their films serving as a prop between dance numbers but they're never lazily put together having a through line and terrific casts. That was one of the powers of the studio system, that they had all those great character actors under contract and could pack a film with talents with the skill of Helen Broderick, Victor Moore and Eric Blore (an Astaire & Rogers staple) to support the stars and give them a chance at interplay outside of the dancing.

Of course at heart the films are all about the dancing and the effortlessness came about after enormous amounts of preparation and rehearsal. Ginger would go off and make another picture while Fred and Hermes Pan would work out the routines for their next pairing and then there would be a period of intense rehearsal during which they usually worked until Ginger's feet bled. The amazing thing is that they never appear over-rehearsed.

Since you like this so I'd recommend Top Hat, The Gay Divorcee or Shall We Dance as the place to look next. I've always had a fondness for their last from this period The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle but it's structured a bit differently since it's a biographical film so has a different feeling from the others.

Their last, after a decade apart when Ginger stepped in for an ailing Judy Garland, The Barkleys of Broadway is enjoyable as well but also seems removed from the series since they play a married couple and it's in color but their chemistry remains.

thevoid99 said...

@joel65913-I heard about the story about Rogers' feet bleeding due to the numerous takes in that. I hope she was insured for that. I do want to see more of their work as it recall the aspects of the musicals that people love and miss.