52 Code Films – Week #52: “Swing Time” from 1936; “The Grand Finale” for The Second Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Blogathon

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Today is the final Sunday in 2019, so it is time for the last 52 Code Films article of the year! I created this series so that I would be sure to watch a lot of movies from the American Breen Era which I have never seen before this year. From lighthearted musicals to acclaimed dramas, there are hundreds if not thousands of wonderful old movies which I haven’t seen yet. Whether famous or obscure, each of these movies was a vital link in the filmography of certain actors, directors, and studios. We can probably never see every Code film which was made, but we can keep making a dent in the long list of unwatched films!

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Today’s topic is Swing Time from 1936. This was the only Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers collaboration which I hadn’t seen yet. Unlike the rest of their movies, we didn’t have this film on VHS in our collection, and it wasn’t included on the four-pack of their films which we bought a while back. Thus, I hadn’t gotten around to seeing it yet. A little while ago, I heard about The Second Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Blogathon. I knew that that would be the perfect opportunity to watch this movie at last and finish their filmography! I watched this movie on Amazon Video on Wednesday.

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Plot

A young man is in a dancing troupe, but he decides to leave it to get married when they visit his hometown. Determined to keep him from getting married, his fellow dancers make him miss the wedding by convincing him he is wearing the wrong pants and getting him into a dice game. When he finally arrives at his fiancee’s house, all the guests have left. His bride and her father are furious. However, the young man convinces them that he was busy making money, producing the $200 he won gambling as evidence. Pleased that his future son-in-law is no longer a dancer, the father encourages him to go to New York to continue building his career. If he comes back with $25,000, he can marry the young lady. At the trains station, the other dancers take back the $200, since they had bet him all the money that he wouldn’t get married. Thus, the young man hops aboard the train, accompanied by the older magician who ran the dance troupe. In New York, the best friends don’t have any money except for his lucky quarter. When his friend wants a cigarette, the gambler asks a pretty young lady if she can change the quarter. However, when he puts the change in the cigarette machine, coins pour out. He then hurries after the young lady to get his lucky quarter back. Unfortunately, she thinks that he is flirting with her, and he soon succeeds in knocking all her packages out of her arms. She then accuses him of stealing her quarter, since his friend slyly removed the lucky coin from her bag. The whole encounter leaves her very upset. Eager to return her money and make amends, the twosome follows her into her place of employment, which is a dancing school. He pretends to be a new student and acts like he can’t dance. Needless to say, the annoyed young lady is exasperated to see the trouble-maker again and have to teach him how to dance. Meanwhile, the magician shows his card tricks to her roommate, a middle-aged woman who is not pleased with the way he made her sandwich disappear. When the young lady’s employer overhears her say that the gambler could never learn to dance, he fires her. To get her job back, the student claims that he really has learned a lot. He does a fantastic dance with her, proving what a great dancer he is. She gets her job back, and her boss schedules an audition for them at a nightclub that evening. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a dinner jacket or any money to buy one. When his dancing partner finds him gambling for the clothes right before the scheduled audition time, she is furious. She eventually forgives him, and they audition a few days later, by which point he has won the money for his outfit. However, the band is being led by a pompous Latin who is in love with the young lady. He refuses to play while she dances with another man. The gambler has to gamble for his contract to get him to play for them. He’s a successful gambler, but he gives up gambling because of his growing feelings for his dancing partner. Rather than winning the $25,000 so that he can get married, he may just want to stay in New York and keep dancing.

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Cast

The dancing gambler is “Lucky” John Garnett, played by Fred Astaire. The young dancer whom he meets in New York City is Penny Carroll, played by Ginger Rogers. Lucky’s best friend and constant companion is Pop Cardetti, played by Victor Moore. Penny’s best friend and roommate is Mabel Anderson, played by Helen Broderick. The pompous bandleader who wants to marry Penny is Ricky Romero, played by Georges Metaxa. Penny’s boss at the dancing school is Gordon, played by Eric Blore. Lucky’s fiancee is Margaret Watson, played by Betty Furness. Her father is Judge Watson, played by Landers Stevens.

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Production Notes

This movie was directed by George Stevens. It was produced by Pandro S. Berman. The production company was RKO Radio Pictures. The screenplay was written by Howard Lindsay and Allan Scott. It comes from a story by Erwin Gelsey. This movie features six original songs by Jerome Kern with lyrics by Dorothy Fields. This movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Dance Direction for “Bojangles of Harlem” for Hermes Pan. It won Best Original Song for “The Way You Look Tonight” for Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields.

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Code Compliance

This is a fair Code film. I am sorry to have to classify it as anything less than a good Code film, since it is very wholesome. The storyline is totally Code-compliant, and there are no dialogue issues. In general, this is a very decent film. The only violation is one of Ginger’s costumes. In the second to the last scene, she wears a white evening gown which is very low-cut. The back is also very bare. In addition, she does not look properly supported in this dress. Considering how decent and Code-compliant the rest of the costumes are, this dress is quite shocking. As my father pointed out, some of her dance movements are indecent because she is wearing this dress. It is really a shame that this otherwise-wholesome film is marred by this one costume. However, compared with films from other times, this is such a small problem. If we can nitpick Code films so much, it just shows what a high standard the Breen Era had!

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My Opinion

I really enjoyed this movie. It found it to be very entertaining. It was full of great music and dances. I was surprised by some of the well-known songs which this film introduced. I knew that it introduced “A Fine Romance,” and I had seen the snowy rendition before ever seeing the movie. However, I was surprised by the inclusion of “The Way You Look Tonight” and “Pick Yourself Up.” I have loved these songs for years, and I was charmed by their renditions in this film. Of course, the dancing was amazing. The duet which they performed to prove that Lucky could dance was one of the best. Fred’s “Bojangles of Harlem” was very impressive, complete with the elaborate effect of three giant silhouettes which danced behind him. Fred Astaire is great in this role. He is a little irresponsible, yet there is something trustworthy about him which always shines through. Ginger Rogers is pleasantly warmer than usual in this role. I always appreciate when she is a little less chilly, as she is in this role. I really liked the interaction between Fred Astaire and Victor Moore, a hilarious character actor whose performances I have enjoyed in some 1940’s movies. The back-and-forth with these two characters was very believable and endearing. The addition of Ginger Rogers’s friend and sidekick, played by the funny and endearing older actress, was a very nice touch. In all, this is a really well-done film.

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Recommendation

I highly recommend this film. If you enjoy musicals of any kind, you will like this movie. It has a very good blend of story and music. The numbers complement the plot, but they never get in the way of the story. This is a great showcase of the talent of one of the great musical teams in classic Hollywood. If you enjoy the talent of one or both of these great artists, don’t miss this movie!

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For the Blogathon

This is my entry in The Second Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Blogathon hosted by Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood and Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. I am so glad that this blogathon gave me a good opportunity to watch this movie at last. It is one of my favorite of their collaborations. As much as I love the dancing of this duo, some of the stories which showcased the team are less than my favorite, largely because of the strange cases of mistaken identities. However, some of their movies are absolutely charming. This is one of the best. The musical numbers are some of the greatest, with a great mixture of ballroom dancing and tap dancing. The relationship between Fred and Ginger in this movie is as good as in any of their movies, and better than in some. As I said earlier, these characters are very endearing. The comedy is especially hilarious. This is the sixth film collaboration of this dancing duo, and it shows them at the very peak of their talent!

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Thank you for reading all of my articles in this series throughout 2019! Stay tuned for an announcement for my new Code film series for 2020!

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This week, I only watched this one new Code film.

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