Monday, June 27, 2016

Short Take: The Gay Divorcee

The Gay Divorcee (1934) was the first starring vehicle for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. (They first appeared together as supporting players in 1933’s Flying Down to Rio.) But the film clearly wasn’t put together as a showcase for the duo’s magic on the dance floor. It’s just a musical in which they happen to play the leads. They don’t dance together until the “Night and Day” scene, which doesn’t come until midway through. It is a bit of a letdown besides. The dancing is beautiful, but it doesn’t start until the number is half over, and it doesn’t do much to enhance the scene’s drama. One doesn’t feel, as in Top Hat’s “Isn’t This a Lovely Day (to Be Caught in the Rain),” that he’s winning her heart through the dance. Instead, she goes immediately from trying to get away from him to the full swoon of being in love. The dance is all climax and no build-up. Astaire and Rogers are also rather incidental to the film’s showpiece production number, the 17-minute “The Continental.” They take center stage at a couple of points, but the scene belongs to director Mark Sandrich and ensemble choreographer Dave Gould. It tries to outdo the kaleidoscopic spectacle of Busby Berkeley’s dance set pieces, and it’s a pretty fair attempt. The stars’ best moment is the film’s closing scene, where they dance across the furniture while making their way out the door. The film has one other notable scene, although it doesn’t feature Astaire or Rogers. It’s the amusing “Let’s K-nock K-nees” number, performed by Betty Grable, Edward Everett Horton, and the film’s chorus. The rest of the picture is a trite mistaken-identity romantic farce. The cast also includes Alice Brady, Eric Blore, and, as the odiously caricatured Italian, Erik Rhodes. The script, credited to George Marion, Jr., Dorothy Yost, and Edward Kaufman, is based on the play Gay Divorce, by Dwight Taylor.

Reviews of other Astaire & Rogers films:

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