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SWING TIME (director: George Stevens; screenwriters: Howard Lindsay/Allan Scott/story Portrait of John Garnett by Erwin S. Gelsey; cinematographer: Dave Abel; editor: Henry Berman; music: Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields/Nathaniel Shilkret; cast: Fred Astaire (John ‘Lucky’ Garnett), Ginger Rogers (Penelope ‘Penny’ Carroll), Victor Moore (Everett ‘Pop’ Cardetti), Helen Broderick (Mabel Anderson), Eric Blore (Gordon, Dance Studio Manager), Betty Furness (Margaret Watson), (Judge Watson), Georges Metaxa (Ricardo ‘Ricky’ Romero), Frank Jenks (Red), John Harrington (Dice Raymond); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Pandro S. Berman; RKO; 1936)
“The “Never Gonna Dance” dance number might have been the best Fred & Ginger ever did.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Swing Time is the sixth time Fred & Ginger teamed up and it’s their last great musical together. Ginger says this was her favorite of all the ten musicals they made together. Despite its usual lightweight script involving ‘boy meets girl and she scorns boy, but later the two get together,’ it offers a stupendous Jerome Kern (music) and Dorothy Fields (lyrics) score, a fabulous art deco set from Van Nest Polglase and Darrell Silvera, and, of course, energetic dance numbers from the duo at the top of their game. The song “The Way You Look Tonight” won an Oscar for Best Song. There are so many other wonderful song and dance numbers that include “Pick Yourself Up,” “It’s Not in the Cards,” “A Fine Romance,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Never Gonna Dance,” “You’re Still Lucky,” “Waltz in Swing Time” and “Bojangles of Harlem.” The “Never Gonna Dance” dance number might have been the best Fred & Ginger ever did. It’s directed by the serious George Stevens (“Alice Adams”/”Gunga Din”/”Giant”/ “Shane”/ “The Diary of Anne Frank”), the only time he directed the duo in a musical (he directed them each solo one other time).

It starts off with dancer John ‘Lucky’ Garnett (Fred Astaire) about to marry hometown gal Margaret Watson (Betty Furness) after finishing his stage show, but his showbiz act led by ‘Pop’ Cardetti (Victor Moore) and Red (Frank Jenks) stall him with a crap game and getting him to believe he needs cuffs for his fancy wedding trousers, so he arrives too late for his own wedding and finds it has been canceled. Margaret and her father Judge Watson give him another chance if he goes to NYC and proves himself worthy of marriage, that is if he can earn $25,000. With that in mind, the destitute Lucky and Pop bum a ride on a freight train. In NYC they run into dance school instructor ‘Penny’ Carroll (Ginger Rogers) and Lucky exchanges his lucky quarter to get change for Pop, who is craving to smoke. Pop steals back the quarter, after Penny refuses to return it. They follow Penny to her workplace at the Gordon School of Dancing and Lucky, still in his wedding outfit, impresses the school manager Mr. Gordon (Eric Blore) and gets him to have Penny give him a free dance lesson. Pop entertains the receptionist, Mabel Anderson (Helen Broderick), and gets her goat by wolfing down her club sandwich. Proving that he’s a professional hoofer, Lucky and Penny team up to go on the stage. Problems arise over Lucky’s gambling problem. But Lucky does win the orchestra of Ricardo Romero (Georges Metaxa) from manager Dice Raymond when Pop cuts an ace.

Lucky falls in love with Penny, but keeps his promise to be faithful to Margaret. This causes Penny to look to Romero to be her husband. But in the end the lucky gambler finds his right partner, as he plays his cards right and a good hand falls into his lap. The delightful film was a box office smash and seemed to hit just the right spot for the 1936 audience, well into suffering through the height of the Depression–finding this film both uplifting and inspirational.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”