Saturday, September 18, 2010

Astaire and Rogers Series: Roberta (1935)

Fred and Ginger dance to Jerome Kern's immortal
"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," in Roberta.
"Lovely to look at, delightful to know," that lyric from one of the many classic tunes in this picture perfectly describes how I feel about the film as a whole. Like the film preceding this one, Roberta is a film adaptation of a Broadway smash of the same name and staring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This time, however, they share the limelight with Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott to great effect. Dunne is already one of my favorite actresses of the era both from her operetta work in films like Showboat and her comedic chemistry with Cary Grant in The Awful Truth and My Favorite Wife. Meanwhile Randolph Scott fulfills his role admirably, though perhaps a slight criticism might be that his performance is a little too much a copy of Gary Cooper.

This film is easily a favorite with my family thanks to the tremendous score by Jerome Kern in which all the songs have become standards but some of the most memorable are "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "Lovely to Look at," and "I Won't Dance." The plot is also fun and well-acted by the supporting cast, two things that are always a plus. To top it off, Fred and Ginger have two great dances together, which is one less than usual, but the final one, done to a medley of "Lovely to Look at" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," is absolutely spectacular.

What passes for a plot goes something like this: American football star John Kent (Randolph Scott) tags along with his friend, the jazz band-leaders Huck Haines (Fred Astaire), who takes his orchestra to Paris for a gig at a swanky cafe only to find that they've  been embroiled in a misunderstanding and have no job. Fortunately for them, John's aunt Madame Roberta owns the most exclusive couturiere in Paris, and thus has the connections to get them another job. That job comes through the Comtesse Scharwenka (Ginger Rogers), who in reality is Huck's high school sweetheart Lizzie. Unfortunately for John, his aunt dies and leaves him her shop, which he has no idea how to run. He would get rid of it, but he's fallen in love with Madame Roberta's assistant Stephanie (Irene Dunne), and decides to take her in as a partner in the business. This goes well until John's snobbish ex-girlfriend from America arrives, suddenly interested in him again because of his inheritance.

Since the setting for this film is a couturiere, all the dresses are completely outlandish, sometimes to great and sometimes to horrible effect. Thus there's plenty of eye candy in the wardrobe department, but there's just as many eyesores, especially Ginger's gown for the "I Won't Dance" sequence, which has one of the ugliest set of shoulders I've ever seen on a dress. I do, however, rather like the simple black gown she wears in the picture above, which has a flattering cut, practical racer-back straps for dancing, and is made from a silken satin (most satin today is made from nylon or some synthetic fabric. To make it from silk is extremely costly).

Even though their romance takes a back seat to the Irene Dunne/Randolph Scott plot, Fred and Ginger are quite endearing in this picture the way they playfully flirt with each other and outright tease each other at times. In addition they get plenty of screen time and have distinctive enough characters that it feels like they're truly sharing the limelight rather than playing second fiddle as they did in Flying Down to Rio. In addition Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott are much better actors than the leads in the aforementioned film, so when the focus is on them, they do not bore us. Irene Dunne further charms us with her classical voice in the two ballads she sings, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," and "Yesterdays."

I give this film a 8 out of 10. Even though it doesn't feature Fred and Ginger as prominently as some of their other films, it manages to find a good balance of all the elements needed for a successful musical comedy.

Buy it Now:
RobertaShow Boat (1936) [VHS]The Awful TruthMy Favorite Wife

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