Ladies and Gentlemen, the main event this evening is the bout between two champions of the silver screen and the winner will be rewarded a position in my top 100.
In this corner we have Top Hat
, an Academy Award best picture nominee for 1935, #15 in the AFI’s list of best musicals, and supported by corner man Irving Berlin.
And in this corner we have Swing Time
, conceivably an underdog but definitely no Tomato Can. Having an Academy Award win for best song “The Way You Look Tonight” and the capable second of Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, makes this 1936 film a serious contender.
Pound for pound they will be judged in seven rounds of grueling competition. With the skill level of these greats, it is sure to go to the scorecards for a final decision.Round 1 The screwball comedy premise: masking attraction with an antagonistic front. Fred and Ginger’s variation on the theme: Astaire’s actions propel him to fall in love and for Ginger to fall in hate.TH:
Fred’s nocturnal tap dancing wakes Ginger and she confronts his inconsiderate behavior. Then she mistakenly thinks he’s her friend’s husband.ST:
Ginger thinks Fred has stolen a quarter from her purse and in trying to make things right, Fred accidentally gets her fired from her job as a dance instructor.
Both serviceable show launchers, but this round goes to Top Hat
. The tap dance scene is funny and endearing. The familiar mistaken identity device gets a little long in the tooth, but it sets up some good comedy and the sweet conflict for the “Cheek to Cheek” dance. In Swing Time
, Fred’s actions make for a superb challenge dance (see round 2), but he needs to continue to make other blunders to keep Ginger sufficiently angry.Round 2The Challenge Dance: advance, retreat, conflict makes way for cooperation.TH:
Fred and Ginger get caught in a storm and seek refuge in a pavilion. He persuades her with a complex dance to call a truce. ST:
Fred wants to help Ginger get her job back so shows the boss how well he can dance because of her instruction. Swing Time
wins this one. “Isn’t this a Lovely Day to be Caught in the Rain” may have better examples of dance steps that illustrate the conflict/cooperation, but “Pick Yourself Up” is technically intricate and humorously emerges right from the plot. Round 3Supporting Cast: Helen Broderick and Eric BloreTop Hat
best utilizes these two actors. Helen delivers some great dead pan lines that raised the show’s comedy level up much higher. Eric isn’t laugh out loud funny, but does some interesting physical humor and gets to articulately insult a police officer. I don't find either one of them is particularly funny in Swing Time
and think their talents are a bit squandered.Round 4Fred Astaire Specialty Song and Dance
This might not be a popular verdict. The iconic “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” should be the winner of this round but I’m going to go with “Bojangles of Harlem” in Swing Time
. My belief is that Fred’s was paying a loving tribute to Bill Robinson, who had been an influence on his dancing. The black face is jarring, but with the filter of what I think was the intent, it allows me to watch and enjoy the prowess and innovation.Round 5Best Bittersweet Romantic Dance
I’m going to get in trouble with this one too. “Cheek to Cheek” is a flight of fancy. Ginger is swept away and doesn’t come back to reality until after the notes fade away. The dips and lifts are beautiful. But, I’m going for bittersweet as the emphasis. “Never Gonna Dance” is charged with emotion and despair. The dancing is breathtaking and the undercurrents remind me that Fred and Ginger are not just great dancers, but believable actors as well. Swing Time
wins this round.Round 6Best Dress
Oh those controversial feathers wafting in the air and onto the dance floor. Ginger designed the dress for the "Cheek to Cheek" dance in Top Hat
and with her mother stood up to Fred’s disapproval. Good for them and good for us. I watch the dance carefully to see if I can find any trace of Fred’s disgust, but I can’t. Now that’s a professional.Round 7Best Song
“Cheek to Cheek” is top tier, but I give this round to “The Way You Look Tonight” from Swing Time
. It’s played over part of “Never Gonna Dance” and makes me want to cry, it’s so beautiful.Fouls: -˝ point eachSwing Time
Forced Hilarity (band leader's pants) This is going to be an issue as well when I get to A Star is Born
Convertible in the winter (All for a windshield wiper/snow gag)
Georges Metaxa (the band leader who can't sing or act)
Well folks, It’s been a barnburner, but Top Hat
has been decided the winner by a mere ˝ point. It looks like my top 100 needs some adjustments to accommodate both of these fine films.