|In this iconic photo, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers|
romance to Cole Porter's immortal "Night and Day"
in their first starring film, The Gay Divorcee.
A typical Astaire and Rogers musical features a light romantic comedy plot with colorful minor characters and plenty of misunderstandings. Fred and Ginger normally have about three dances together and a few more songs, but it's during the dances that they fall in love. This dynamic duo was first teamed together for supporting roles in the 1933 film Flying Down to Rio, a film that many people consider to be the first of great the Astaire/Rogers movies, but I exclude it on the grounds that they're barely in it and when they're not on-screen it's a pretty wretched film. Fortunately for the world, the producers at RKO Pictures realized that they had something special in those two, and decided to give them their own film based on a play Fred had done on Broadway, The Gay Divorce (the title was changed to The Gay Divorcee in order to eliminate the implication that anything could be fun about divorce, but the theme of the play still seems to support that thesis).
As the first real Astaire/Rogers film, therefore, this film has a lot of magic moments, but it also has a lot of things that will be improved upon in later outings. Let's start with what's good, shall we? First off the plot is simple but amusing, and the character actors are hilarious especially Alice Brady, Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore, and Eric Rhodes. Of course Fred and Ginger have a couple of good dances together in "Night and Day" and "The Continental,." a 17-minute extravaganza. I also can say that this is the only one of their movies in which I like all of Ginger's outfits. In every other film she has one dress that's absolutely hideous but in this one she escapes possibly because she was not yet a big enough star to get really avant-garde designers. I especially like the ball gown in which she's pictured above.
Now, unfortunately I have to tell what's sub-par. To start, with the exception of the two already mentioned musical numbers, the rest of the score is completely forgettable. Secondly there's a musical number featuring Betty Grable called "Let's Knock Knees" that's extraneous and painfully bad--and that's only partially because Edward Everett Horton tries to sing! Also as well as the plot works it's not as refined or tightly-woven as their later films would be, but this is a minor quibble.
The plot synopsis is simple. Ginger Rogers plays an American girl who finds to her dismay that her husband, a British professor, is a fortune hunter. Obviously she needs a divorce, but in 1930s Britain, women could only get divorces with either their husbands' permission or in a case of proven infidelity. So in order to get grounds for her divorce, Ginger must fake an affair with a hired correspondent. Unfortunately she mistakes the man who, unaware of her marital status, has been romantically pursuing her for the hired correspondent, creating some memorably awkward and funny scenes.
Despite a few objections and the fact that it's not as good as their later pairings, I still give this film a 7.6 out of 10, a solid Astaire/Rogers outing.
Buy it on DVD:
The Gay Divorcee, Flying Down to Rio