Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Top Hat (1935)


(director: Mark Sandrich; screenwriters: Dwight Taylor/Alexander Faragó (play); cinematographer: David Abel; editor: William Hamilton; cast: Fred Astaire (Jerry Travers), Ginger Rogers (Dale Tremont), Edward Everett Horton (Horace Hardwick), Helen Broderick (Madge Hardwick), Erik Rhodes (Alberto Beddini), Eric Blore (Bates), Lucille Ball (Florist); Runtime: 101; RKO; 1935)


Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Almost completely similar in story line to Fred ‘n’ Ginger’s 1934 The Gay Divorcee. This one is the fourth of ten films the dynamic musical duo made together, and is their quintessential film. A popular Irving Berlin score, which includes: “Cheek to Cheek,” “Fancy Free,””No Strings,” “Isn’t it a Lovely Day to be Caught in the Rain”, “Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails” (where Fred innovatively uses his cane to “mow down” a chorus lineup of dancers), and the graceful Hermes Pan dance numbers and art direction.

The comedy between numbers is provided by a plot that calls for a misunderstanding of identities, as Ginger thinks Fred is married to her best friend and therefore rebuffs his advances until she finds out his true identity in the nick of time. The magic did not come from the light comedy and the overworked romantic situation, which was mindful of a French farce, but from the sexy chemistry on the screen between the two stars and the way they looked natural dancing together. The only song she sings is “Piccolino,” which comes at the end, and fits in nicely with the Venice scenery of gondoliers. Filmed during the heart of the Depression the film makes it a point to show how extravagant the rich lived, with not a care in the world for money. There is a display of luxury hotels and a Venice done up as an Art Deco scene and, of course, there is Ginger’s famous feather dress and all the other ostentatious costumes and top hats worn.

Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) is a famous Broadway dancer, who is making his London debut. He is waiting to be picked up by the producer of the London dance revue, Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton), at the stuffy Thackery Club, where silence is golden. Annoying the club members by just ruffling his newspaper, Horace at last rescues him and takes him to his hotel room. Feeling exuberant Jerry tap dances late at night and Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers), who is in the room below is annoyed that the dancing keeps her from falling asleep. She complains to Jerry and he flirts, but she walks away and plays hard to get after talking to the hotel people and finding out that the room belongs to Horace Hardwick. What further annoys her is that she’s friends with Horace’s wife Madge (Helen Broderick), whom she is scheduled to meet in Venice soon. She feels terrible that her friend’s husband is such a womanizer.

Jerry, meanwhile, has fallen in love and spends most of the film figuring out schemes to be with her, but all the schemes go bust because of the mistaken identity. When he isn’t scheming he goes into the various song and dance numbers: some solo, some with her, and there’s lots of verbal sparring to keep the film highly energized.

Alberto Beddini (Erik Rhodes), the egotistical dress designer, is an eccentric character who speaks with a heavy foreign accent and has a business arrangement with the fashion model Dale, where she wears his dresses and he pays her expenses. He also has romantic designs on her that go unanswered.

Bates (Eric Blore) is the valet for Horace and is the other resident eccentric, the one with a caustic wit, who is sent on assignment to tail Dale and report back if she’s a scheming woman as Horace is afraid that a scandal will ruin the show.

The showdown takes place in Venice, which is an artificially recreated version of that great city. Madge is staying in this opulent but gaudy Art Deco hotel and is waiting to play matchmaker and introduce Jerry to Dale. But her plans go afoul when Dale thinks it is her husband who is chasing after her. Horace is kept from being together with his wife and Dale in Venice by every plot device that could be mustered, which keeps the misunderstanding going to the very end.

This catchy romantic farce should hit the right spot for those in need of lighthearted escapism; and, with its show stopping musical routines, it has reached the film classic status. It seems to be one of those films that doesn’t get dated and has that glorious climax of “Cheek To Cheek,” with Fred and Ginger dancing as lovers, which should lighten the hearts of those movie romantics. This sweeping musical, filmed in B&W, is delightful either on video or is all the better if one is lucky enough to see it on widescreen.