Top Hat (1935)
Top Hat is one of the most famous musicals of all time, and possibly the most acclaimed of the ten movies that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made together. I personally first learned of the film through its inclusion in The Green Mile, which I had seen when I was much younger. I had always been interested in the film that spawned the “Cheek to Cheek” number, and since then I’ve seen Top Hat a few times.
As film critic Alonso Duralde once told me, watching an Astaire and Rogers movie for plot will only result in heartache. I’d be willing to say that that goes for most movies made during this time, when studios had solidified their movie-churning process and nothing was allowed to be too original. Therefore, I feel like it’s best to look at the movie for what it’s really showcasing – the musical abilities of its two leads, the unmatchable Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
In that regard, Top Hat is excellent. The musical numbers just seem to get better and better. No Strings (I’m Fancy Free) is usual Astaire goodness, where he makes sure to utilize the furniture around him as part of his dance. His sand tap dancing to put Rogers asleep is also a nice touch, both interesting and somewhat romantic. Isn’t This a Lovely Day (To be Caught in the Rain) is enjoyable because Rogers gets to match Astaire in his dance steps under a gazebo.
Top Hat, White Tie and Tails is a fantastic number. Although it uses more than one shot, which went against Astaire’s philosophy on dance sequences, it includes him using his cane as a prop to a marvelous degree. It becomes a rifle that he tap-shoots his backup dancers with, and the whole thing is both humorous and impressive. Cheek to Cheek is of course possibly the best known song that Astaire and Rogers ever performed together, and it’s not hard to see why. The lyrics are as sweet as anything you could imagine, and their dancing together is exemplary of top-notch class. This is also the instance of Rogers’ feather dress which would gain her the nickname “Feathers” to Astaire for the rest of their career, and which would be referenced in Astaire’s Easter Parade.
The Piccolino is admittedly a nonsense song with subpar lyrics, but the big dance number makes up for it, and to be fair, it was really just an exercise at rhyming an unusual word. With that in mind, it’s not so horrible a tune, and serves as an adequate finale to the film.
Unfortunately, I am unable to praise this film as flawless and perfect. It would be dishonest of me to not admit that the plot had me irritated. I understand that the comical mishap of ascribing a wrong identity to someone may not have been overdone when this movie came out, but nowadays such a thing is more than trite, and the entirety of the plot relies on it. It’s very contrived, and you realize that the entire ordeal would be solved if the characters were just able to better communicate. I couldn’t stand that Rogers mistook Astaire to be her friend’s husband for almost the entire picture. It was such a weak foundation to a silly storyline.
I also wasn’t a fan of the butler character Bates, who was inconsistent and unnecessarily flamboyant. Alberto Beddini was played by Eric Rhodes, who very obviously wasn’t Italian, and the result is one of the worst accents I’ve ever heard in filmic history. These weak and sometimes annoying characters, combined with the questionable plot, are weakpoints to a film that has otherwise survived its 75 year age to remain relevant.
If you can bring yourself to ignore such inconvenient deficiencies, the musical numbers will not disappoint. Astaire and Rogers are possibly at their finest here, showcasing their dancing and musical skills and proving why, 70 years later, we all still know and love their names, and why 70 years from now they’ll remain just as relevant.
Final rating: 7.5/10
–James A. Janisse
This entry was posted on September 28, 2009 by James A. Janisse. It was filed under 7 - 7.5, Genre, Musical, Ratings, Romance and was tagged with alonso duralde, eric rhodes, fred astaire, ginger rogers.