Astaire & Rogers Collection
It’s almost impossible to watch Fred and Ginger zip and glide across the screen and not feel a mighty urge to jump out of your chair and zip and glide (less gracefully) across the living-room floor. That’s part of their infectious magic. Though neither was movie-star gorgeous, something amazing happened when they moved; they transformed light, comic confections into profound, giddy celebrations of romance in all its facets.
The Astaire and Rogers Collection contains, Top Hat is tops with two of the duo’s most sublime numbers (”The Piccolino,” ”Cheek to Cheek”), plus Fred’s rat-a-tat solo, a funnier-than-you-remember script (Erik Rhodes’ English-mangling designer exclaiming: ”Never again will I allow women to wear my dresses!”), and the hummable Irving Berlin score. The George Stevens-directed Swing Time, featuring glorious Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields songs, is just as good. According to author John Mueller in the best commentary, the climax of the ethereal, melancholic ”Never Gonna Dance” sequence took 10 hours and 47 tries and left Rogers’ feet bleeding through her high heels. (Ever the trouper, she insisted on finishing.) Follow the Fleet has the delightful ”Let Yourself Go” Lindy goof with its quirky, hands-on-hips side steps and speedy, spaghetti-tangled skips; in Shall We Dance, the roller-rink duet and Astaire’s boiler-room solo are standouts. Despite a relaxed tap in the beginning, The Barkleys of Broadway, the heralded reunion in earthbound Technicolor, is the set’s flat-footed entry.
As we’re reminded often in the docs and commentaries, these elegant, intricate dances were performed in long, uninterrupted, full-body shots. Perfection was achieved only after weeks of rehearsals and grueling multiple takes. And through it all, Astaire worried incessantly. Relax, Fred, wherever you are. They’re absolutely swell. Top, Swing: A Fleet, Dance: B+ Barkleys: B