Sunday, October 17, 2010

Astaire and Rogers: Carefree (1938)

Ginger Rogers tries to find out if dancing with Fred Astaire
in reality can be as good as it was in her dream in Carefree.
A standard Astaire/Rogers plot can be summed up thusly: Fred chases Ginger.  It's refreshing, therefore, to see a movie in which she chases him as she does in this film, Carefree. This is also without a doubt the strangest movie they made together, a screwball comedy almost worthy of Preston Sturgess. Actually it's a good thing that the comedy works so well because the only song from this movie that was good enough to become a jazz standard was "Change Partners," and the dances leave you wanting much more.

Let's focus, then, on that wonderfully silly little plot, shall we? Fred Astaire plays Freudian psychiatrist (yes, you read that correctly) Tony Flagg whose old college roommate Steve asks him to psychoanalyze his fianc√© Amanda (Ginger Rogers) because she keeps getting cold feet. Of course Amanda is insulted by the notion that she needs a shrink, and feels even worse when she overhears Tony complaining about how sick he is of dealing with "silly, maladjusted females." She gives him the run-around until they finally mend fences and decide to cooperate. Tony voices his concern that Amanda doesn't dream when she sleeps because it makes it impossible to analyze her subconscious. So after Tony makes her gorge herself on rich foods to induce dreams, she has one--a dream of dancing with him!

That dream convinces Amanda that she's really in love with Tony, but she's too embarrassed to tell him that when he asks about her dream in his professional capacity. Instead she makes up a beautiful plethora of neuroses that will ensure her being in therapy for a long time. But when she tries to explain to Steve that she's in love with Tony, he misunderstands her and thinks she's cured and wants to marry him now. Amanda then goes to Tony and confesses that she loves him but doesn't know that to do. His solution is to hypnotize her to love Steve and hate him. But he regrets it immediately afterwards  when he realizes that he's in love with her too. Before he can reverse the process, Amanda escapes while still under hypnosis and tries to go after Tony with a shotgun. He brings her out of the trance, but her conscious self won't let him get anywhere near her to reverse the process. But you figure a guy with a PHD could figure something out. Maybe a dance would help?

I really can't tell you how clever some of these comedic situations are. There's a judge lurking in the background ready to prosecute at the slightest provocation, and Ginger uses this to her advantage to get Fred to do what she wants. There are also two wonderful scenes when Ginger is "under the influence," first of an anesthetic and then of hypnosis, and does come crazy things. Those devices are definitely milked for all their worth, but their not run into the ground, either.

Now onto the dances. Really, they aren't bad in this one, but they all seem short somehow, and unlike the other films they have together, this one boasts no memorable numbers that are simply sung and not danced in order to add more music. The first dance "I Used to Be Colorblind," is quite enjoyable, showing that Fred and Ginger look just as impressive and graceful in slow motion as they do at regular speed, which is more than may be said about most people. Then there's "The Yam," which despite being a horrible name for a song, proves to be a solid number because although it's a group number, it focuses almost exclusively on Fred and Ginger instead of digressing with crowd shots, a major fault of the early Astaire/Rogers films. But the best number has to be "Change Partners," where Fred hypnotizes Ginger with his dancing.  It's beautifully choreographed, with Ginger doing a wonderful job of swaying under his power, and Fred working his arms like a puppet master. At the same time, though, it's very romantic like the rest of their dances.

 So in the end this is a very enjoyable film, making up for what it lacks as a musical with what it has in the way of comedy. Fred and Ginger do not fail to entertain nor to disappoint with their dancing. Even when the music is lacking, they are still memorable.

I give this film a 7.8, a treat for fans of the Astaire/Rogers teaming.

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