Fred Astaire

Carefree 1938

Carefree (1938)

Stephen Arden (Ralph Bellamy) has been engaged to singer Amanda Cooper (Ginger Rogers) multiple times, but she continually breaks off their engagement. After finding himself jilted for the third time, Stephen asks his friend Tony (Fred Astaire), a psychiatrist, to analyze Amanda and find out what’s causing her fear of commitment. Before meeting her, Tony thinks Amanda is a “mindless female,” and says so into his dictaphone, a recording that Amanda ends up hearing while waiting in his office. Furious, Amanda gets out of the appointment and snubs Tony when she meets him again later.

Eventually, Amanda admits why she’s angry with Tony and Tony apologizes before he starts questioning Amanda about her fear of commitment. Amanda can’t offer any explanation for it, so Tony orders her to have a meal of ridiculous food combinations to bring on dreams that could offer some insight. The plan works, but Amanda awakens the next morning realizing she’s in love with Tony, not Stephen.

When Tony asks Amanda about her dream, she doesn’t want to admit the truth, so she makes up a wild dream that makes Tony want to study her further. He orders her to be given a truth serum, not realizing she’s due to perform on the radio very shortly. Despite the fact that her broadcast is a complete disaster, Amanda still loves Tony, but just as she’s about to admit her feelings to him, Stephen announces that he and Amanda are engaged again. Although Tony loves her back, he tries to hypnotize Amanda into thinking she loves Stephen, a plan that also totally backfires.

Carefree is an Astaire-Rogers movie that I don’t think gets nearly enough credit. Sure, there aren’t as many songs as some of their other movies and the musical numbers aren’t as dazzling as “Cheek to Cheek” or “Never Gonna Dance,” but there still are some really great dances in it. I love the hypnotic dance they do to “Change Partners” and I like the slight surrealness of “I Used to be Colorblind.” I actually didn’t mind that it wasn’t as heavy on the songs as some of their other movies because there was less to distract attention from how great Astaire, Rogers, and Bellamy all were in it, just in different ways. For example, Ginger Rogers in particular was hilarious in it, but I think that’s a fact that might have been overshadowed if there had been more dance scenes. So even if Carefree isn’t the best of the Astaire-Rogers pairings, it’s nice to see them in a movie that lets them emphasize some of their other talents.

Pre-Code Essentials: Dancing Lady (1933)

Dancing Lady 1933

Plot

When wealthy playboy Tod Newtwon (Franchot Tone) goes to take in a show at a two-bit burlesque hall, he happens to be there the same night the police raid the joint. Some of the dancers, including Janie Barlow (Joan Crawford) are arrested for indecency and taken to night court for sentencing. Since Janie can’t pay the fine, her only option is to spend time in jail. Tod is attracted to Janie and bails her out. Once he gets to know her and sees the passion she has for dancing, he decides to help her land a gig on Broadway, despite her insistence that she do it on her own.

Tod makes an arrangement with producer Patch Gallagher (Clark Gable) to finance his new show if he gives Janie a chance. Patch is hesitant to accept her, but warms up to her when he sees her genuine talent and dedicated work ethic. Janie starts seeing Tod, but Patch and Janie also start falling in love with each other. Janie works her way up from chorus girl to being the star of the show, but when Tod begins to think that Janie wouldn’t have time for him if she becomes a big star, he pulls his funding for the show. But when Janie finds out what he’s done, she realizes where her heart really lies.


My Thoughts

Dancing Lady  is my favorite Joan Crawford pre-code. It’s so very emblematic of the early 1930s era of her career. Joan is great in it and she has the chance to work with two of her best co-stars: Clark Gable and Franchot Tone. An MGM movie with Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and Franchot Tone hardly sounds unusual, but Dancing Lady is noteworthy for the fact that it also features The Three Stooges and the film debut of Fred Astaire. Where else can you see Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, The Three Stooges, and Fred Astaire together in the same movie? The story isn’t anything remarkable, the musical numbers aren’t particularly memorable, but the cast is solid enough to make it worth watching. It’s the kind of movie that knows it’s entertainment for entertainment’s sake and it doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t, but it does exactly what it’s supposed to quite well. It’s great fun.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moments

At night court, the Judge calls Janie’s dancer friend to the stand:

Judge: “What’s your name?”

Rosette: “Rosette Henrietta LaRue! Occupation: hip swinging!”

When Janie goes to thank Patch for putting her in the show, he smacks her on the rear end and she enthusiastically replies, “Thank you!”


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

It doesn’t get much more definitively pre-code than having a major plot point hinge around a dancer being arrested for indecency. Janie is a classic example of a likable, sympathetic character who just happens to have an occupation that censors didn’t want audiences finding sympathetic. She may have worked at a burlesque joint, but most importantly, she’s a hard worker who was just trying to do the best she could and that’s something depression-era movie audiences could definitely appreciate.

What’s on TCM: December 2013

Astaire and Rogers in Swing Time2013 is drawing to a close and TCM is ending the year in style!  If you like musicals, this is your kind of month.  First of all, Fred Astaire is December’s Star of the Month!  So put on your dancing shoes every Wednesday night and get ready for lots of fabulous dance scenes.  On December 18, there will be a tribute to Betty Comden and Adolph Green so there will be a lot of excellent musicals on during the day.  New Year’s Eve will also be very musical with rock and roll oriented movies during the day and the That’s Entertainment! series playing all night long.

This theme for December’s edition of Friday Night Spotlight is The Hollywood Costume, which is curated by costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis.  If you enjoyed participating in or reading posts from the Fashion in Film Blogathon, I’m sure you’re going to love this series.

Remember how last month I said that the Story of Film series was finishing up?  Yeah, I have no idea what I was thinking when I said that.  It definitely ends this month.  I apologize for my mistake.

Since it’s December, there will be lots of classic Christmas movies to look forward to.  On December 30th, TCM will also be honoring some stars we lost in 2012 but were not already honored with special tributes including Deanna Durbin, Annette Funicello, and Karen Black.

So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the schedule…

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Holiday Inn (1942)

Holiday Inn PosterJim Hardy (Bing Crosby) and Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire), along with Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale), are a successful song-and-dance act, but Jim has had just about enough of the showbiz lifestyle.  He plans to do one last performance on Christmas Eve, then marry Lila, move to a farm in Connecticut, and enjoy a more leisurely life.  However, Lila has other plans.  She’s fallen in love with Ted and wants to keep performing with him, so Jim retires to that Connecticut farm by himself.  But Jim quickly realizes that living on a farm takes a lot more work than he anticipated and Jim winds up having to spend some time resting in a sanitarium.

Going to a sanitarium wasn’t all bad, though.  Being there gave Jim time to think and he came up with the idea of turning his farm into an inn that is only open on holidays.  Ted and Danny (Walter Abel), Jim’s manager, aren’t too keen on the idea, but when Danny runs into aspiring dancer Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), he tells her to get in touch with Jim.  When she arrives at Jim’s farm on Christmas day, she and Jim have an instant rapport and he hires her to perform at the inn’s opening night on New Year’s Eve.

Opening night is a big success, but just before the stroke of midnight, an unexpected guest arrives — Ted.  Lila had just left Ted and now Ted’s very drunk and looking to talk to Jim.  But before he can find Jim, he winds up dancing with Linda and the two of them are the hit of the night.  The next morning, Jim can’t remember who he danced with, but he knows that she’s his dream dance partner and sets out on a mission to find her again.  Not wanting Linda to run off with Ted the way Lila had, Jim proposes to Linda and tries anything to stop Ted from finding her.  But Ted finally figures out the truth on Valentine’s Day and wants to start performing with her at the inn.

Ted continues trying to woo Linda, but Linda stays faithful to Jim.  But when Jim finds out that some Hollywood agents will be coming to the inn to see Jim and Linda perform, Jim fixes it so that she misses the performance and Ted has to perform alone.  After Linda finally does make it to the inn, she finds out what Jim has done and is hurt that Jim doesn’t trust her.  She heads off to Hollywood with Ted to star in a movie based on the story of the Holiday Inn while Jim stays in Connecticut, following their romance through movie fan magazines.  Ted is completely lost without Linda, and with some encouragement from his housekeeper Mamie (Louise Beavers), flies to Hollywood on Christmas Eve to make one last attempt to win Linda back.

Holiday Inn is definitely one of my essential Christmastime movies.  I love Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby together and all those wonderful Irving Berlin songs are the icing on the cake.  Even though I think the character of Ted is a bit of a jerk, leave it to Fred Astaire to play him with enough charm to still be likeable.  Of course, Holiday Inn is best remembered for introducing the song “White Christmas,” which went on to become one of the most successful singles of all time.  As memorable as Bing’s songs are, I absolutely adore some of Fred’s dance numbers such as the firecracker dance and the drunken New Years Eve dance.

Even though Holiday Inn is generally thought of as being a Christmas movie, it covers so many different holidays that you could probably watch it any time of year and not feel completely out of season.  It’s an absolutely delightful movie.  The only thing stopping me from saying, “What’s not to like?” about it is that unfortunate “Abraham” musical number featuring Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds in blackface.

What’s on TCM: July 2012

Happy July, everyone!  Hard to believe that it’s already almost time for Summer Under the Stars, but TCM has lots of fun stuff going on in July to keep us busy until then.  Leslie Howard is the Star of the Month and his movies will be on every Tuesday night this month.  Every Monday in July will be dedicated to showing 24 hours of adventure movies.  Spike Lee is this month’s guest programmer and has chosen some excellent movies for the night of July 5th.  There are a lot of good things to mention, so let’s get to it:

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Flying Down to Rio (1933)

Band leader Roger Bond (Gene Raymond) is a notorious womanizer.  While his band is playing in Miami, the lovely Belinha De Rezenda (Dolores del Rio) catches his eye and isn’t about to let the hotel’s rule about staff not fraternizing with guests stand in his way.  Fred Ayers (Fred Astaire), his friend/choreographer/accordion player, knows that this will not end well at all and sure enough, he is right.  When Belinha’s chaperone finds out what Roger is doing, she gets him fired.  But when he finds out Belinha is headed to Rio de Janeiro, he gets in touch with his friend Julio (Raul Roulien) in Rio and gets the band a gig playing at the hotel Julio works at.  And it just so happens that Roger likes to fly and has his own two-seat plane, so he offers to give Belinha a lift.

Along the way, Roger plays the old “engine trouble” card and lands his plane on a secluded beach in Haiti.  He spends the whole night trying to win Belinha over, but he soon finds out there is one little detail she’s neglected to mention — she’s engaged.  Roger isn’t about to let that stand in the way, but when she finds out that there wasn’t really a problem with the engine, she storms off and catches another plane to Rio.  When Roger finally makes his own way to Rio, he asks his friend Julio to help him win Belinha back, but doesn’t realize that Julio is the person Belinha is engaged to.  Not only that, her father owns the hotel they’re now playing at.

While Fred and Honey Hale (Ginger Rogers), the band’s singer, are having fun learning the local dances, things aren’t going so smoothly for Belinha’s father.  Some business rivals are trying to put his hotel out of business before it even opens and has the police shut down the band’s rehearsals, knowing they couldn’t get their entertainment permits in time for the grand opening festivities.  But then Roger has a stroke of genius and decides to do their show in the air, where they wouldn’t need permits.  They come up with a show that involves plenty of showgirls dancing on the wings of airplanes.  The show is a huge success and Belinha’s father is so grateful to Roger for saving his hotel that he sends him a heartfelt letter thanking him for all he has done.  After that, Roger doesn’t have the heart to split up Belinha and Julio.  But Julio realizes that Belinha would be much happier with Roger and doesn’t want to get between them.

Flying Down to Rio is best remembered for being the first movie to feature Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers together.  But don’t go into it expecting something along the lines of Swing Time or Follow the Fleet.  Flying Down to Rio was really intended to be a vehicle for Dolores del Rio, so Fred and Ginger are just supporting roles.  But even in their supporting role status, they’re clearly the scene stealers of the movie.  If you set the Fred and Ginger factor aside, Flying Down to Rio stands well on its own as a real pre-code classic.  It’s got some fun innuendo and even though there’s no way that musical number on the airplanes would ever actually work as a real show, it’s such an unforgettable scene.  Overall, a very fun movie.

Dancing Lady (1933)

Not being able to get any other kind of job, Janie Barlow (Joan Crawford) resorts to taking a job in a burlesque club.  When her club gets raided one night, she gets dragged into night court and the wealthy playboy Tod Newton (Franchot Tone) and his friends go along with them to see what happens.  Finding himself attracted to Janie, he pays her bail and once she’s out, takes her out on a date and sends her home with some extra money for a new dress.  She’s attracted to Tod, too, but is afraid he’s out of her league.  She also decides that she’s had enough of burlesque and is determined to get a job in a legitimate show.  She hears that Patch Gallagher (Clark Gable) is putting on a new show and starts stalking him, determined to get in.  Patch blows her off at every turn, but as anybody in showbiz knows, it pays to have connections.  Tod offers to send a letter of introduction to Jasper Bradley, Patch’s boss.  That letter gets her an audition and even though they try to brush her off, she proves to be a very talented dancer and gets in the show.

What Janie doesn’t know is that Tod also offered to help fund the show if she gets in.  She works very hard in rehearsals and even begins to win over Patch, who is starting to fall for her.  He even takes her out of the chorus and makes her a star.  Meanwhile, she continues seeing Tod.  Tod is very much in love with her, but with Janie’s career taking off, she’s not particularly interested in getting married.  But Tod sees an easy solution to this — buy the show out and close it so that Janie has nothing else to do but get married to Tod.  Janie isn’t just disappointed because she doesn’t get to be a star, but also because she had fallen in love with Patch, too.

Janie and Tod take a trip to Cuba together, but Patch is determined to have the show go on and puts his own money into it.  Janie and Tod return just before the show is set to open, but they run into a very drunk Patch in a nightclub.  Patch can’t resist telling Janie about what Tod has done and when she finds out the truth, she is horrified.  She goes to see Patch and begs him to let her back into the show.  Janie gets her job back, the show opens, and naturally, it’s a big success.  Tod makes one last attempt to win Janie back, but now she knows where her heart truly lies.

Dancing Lady was clearly MGM’s attempt to keep up with Warner Brothers’ Busby Berkeley musicals.  You clearly see the influence of Berkeley’s choreography, but even MGM couldn’t fully capture the brilliance of the real thing.  But that being said, it’s a very entertaining movie.  It’s got lots of fun, saucy pre-code lines and I loved the entire cast.  Actually, I think the cast is the most interesting thing about Dancing Lady.  First of all, you’ve got Joan Crawford with Clark Gable and Franchot Tone, two of her best co-stars.  But then you’ve also got The Three Stooges plus Nelson Eddy and Fred Astaire, both making their film debuts.  Yes, believe it or not, it is possible to see Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, and The Three Stooges together in the same movie.  It’s a very unlikely bunch of people to wind up in a movie together, but I can’t help but love the fact that it actually happened.  All in all, a great movie, one of my favorite 1930s Joan Crawford movies.