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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Shall We Dance

Shall We Dance, from 1937, goes back to the usual Astaire/Rogers pattern--fine comedy (this time from Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore) and great composers (George and Ira Gershwin). It was again directed by Mark Sandrich. The problem with this film is that there isn't enough music, and as I watch these films I see the weaknesses of Astaire as a thespian (he puts on the worst phony Russian accent I've ever heard). It recalls the perhaps apocryphal scouting assessment of him after a screen test: "Balding, can't act. Can dance a little."

In this go-round Astaire is a great ballet dancer. He is called Petrov, but is really just Pete Peters from Philadelphia. His impresario is Horton, who tries to keep the image of him as a great Russian sacrosanct. Astaire has a crush on musical-comedy star Rogers, but when he tries to meet her she puts him off. He follows her on board the Queen Mary (there is a stalking motif in many of these films). Through a convolution of plot too difficult to summarize here, everyone comes to assume that Astaire and Rogers are married, which develops into some farce. The two have to end up getting married in order to get divorced (the easiness of divorce was something of another running theme in thirties films--I would imagine it went along with the opulent hotel rooms as something that middle America was unfamiliar with but fantasized about).

There are some recognizable Gershwin tunes, such as "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "They All Laughed," and "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," which the starring duo perform in a charming dance on roller skates, ending with a pratfall. Ira Gershwin came up with the lyrics when he heard Astaire and Rogers pronounce the word "either" differently. I laughed out loud a few places at some of the comedy, including a wonderful scene with Blore on the telephone with Horton. Playing Rogers' manager is Jerome Cowan, in a role that seems to suggest William Powell. I loved his line about Rogers' putative fiance: "a Park Avenue cluck with the longest yacht and shortest chin in New York."

While not as accomplished as Top Hat or Swing Time, Shall We Dance goes down easy and is a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours.

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