Director: Mark Sandrich
Writer: Allan Scott, Dwight Taylor, Ben Holmes, Ralph Spence, Károly Nóti
Cinematographer: David Abel
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
by Jon Cvack
This is the first of ten musicals from Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers that I’ve seen, and while I wish I had more to say, it was this complete lack of thoughts that made me realize how disappointing the film is. The first musical I had seen from Astaire was The Band Wagon (1953), which was a smart, mildly meta narrative that deconstructed theater, film noir, and theater, combining tropes and conventions at a volume that would never be seen again until the 90s. It’s rare for such a popular film to fall so flat with me; where I can at least appreciate what it did for the genre or its position in history. Unfortunately it failed the DVD Clock Test, where I kept on glancing over to see how much longer I had to go.
Top Hat involves American performer Jerry Tavern (Fred Astaire) who arrives in London to star in a show produced by the neurotic Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton; in a role that makes you realize how long this character type has existed). While Jerry is practicing in his hotel room, he wakes up aspiring dancer Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers), forcing her to head to his room and complain where she mistakes him for Horace the Producer, hoping to get a role in a show. Jerry falls in love with Dale, following her to Venice where they meet Dale’s friend and Horace’s wife Madge (Helen Broderick). With Dale still thinking Jerry is Horace, Jerry proposes to Dale, enraging her and so begins the famous rom-com formula that extends for an hour with minimal laughs and a lot of song and dance numbers.
Having just watched The Love Parade (1929) and learning that it was the first to integrate song numbers into a narrative - at times awkwardly - it’s no surprise that a movie made only six years later would experience the same gawkiness. The story and how it transpires simply doesn’t warrant an 95 minute runtime, and the numbers aren’t extravagant enough to completely distract. Even the classic “Cheek to Cheek”, while by far the best scene of the movie, caused me to wonder what movie incorporated this song in a creepy way (it was The Green Mile ('99)). When the movie ended I was left with that empty feeling that just-okay movies provide - with no resentment or joy to be felt. It was a cinematic experience where I’ll soon forget most of the details and avoid returning to for decades. Maybe I’ll like it the second time.
BELOW: Astair/Rogers' most famous number
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