Sunday, March 5, 2017

Shall We Dance

Year 9, Day 64 - 3/5/17 - Movie #2,564

BEFORE: I'm facing a difficult decision tonight, because I've made great progress so far this year, meaning that I've shrunk the watchlist by at least 10 movies, and I've been able to maintain it at 133 films for the last month.  Even when I went away for the weekend in February I kept going, staying up late to watch the ultra-long film "Cleopatra" in a hotel room in Atlantic City.  But I think I need to shut things down for a week, if I'm going to maintain the chain.

I don't HAVE to watch every Astaire/Rogers film - and I don't HAVE to watch something special for St. Patrick's Day, but I also can't ignore the opportunities that come my way.  Next Thursday, TCM will be running "The Barkleys of Broadway", one of the two Astaire/Rogers films I don't have, and then the next day, it's "Finian's Rainbow", also with Fred Astaire, just in time for the holiday.  I hate to push everything on the list back by nearly a week, but I also shouldn't feel bad about doing so if I really want to.  After all, I "only" watch 300 films a year, so there's an extra 65 days built into the schedule - I can use up 6 of them now, and still have a lot of leeway.  Because in the end, it's going to be a lot easier for me to connect Fred Astaire to St. Patrick's Day than it would be to hold off until "Easter Parade" (or, God forbid, "Holiday Inn").

My only concern is that the watchlist number could creep up again, while I'm dark for 6 days.  Richard Burton films are entering the list at an alarming rate (Thanks again, TCM...) and the list of films I want to add to the watchlist is back up around 21 films, about where it was 2 weeks ago, and also 4 weeks ago, so it's become very difficult to make any progress.  But since I don't want to break the chain, it looks like I'll watch 4 more films this week, then take 6 days off.  Maybe I'll catch up on my comic books, maybe I'll go to the theater and see "Logan" and save that review for later on.

Anyway, it's my 6th pairing of Astaire & Rogers tonight (their 7th, but who's counting?) and you know, I've found all their films to be so similar, maybe it wouldn't hurt me to take a little break later this week.

THE PLOT: A budding romance between a ballet master and a tap dancer becomes complicated when rumors surface that they're already married.

AFTER: I don't know if I'm alone here, in noticing that the plots of the Astaire & Rogers films are really just made up of the same elements over and over.  There are two love triangles here, one for him and one for her, which is what I call a "Love quadrangle" (I guess it should be "quadrilateral", but whatever...) and then there's confusion over either identity or the validity of a marriage.  I'm left to conclude that the 1930's was just a simpler time, before the Dark Days of World War II, and maybe that's all you really needed to make a musical/dance movie back then.  Hire the composer of the day - here it's the Gershwins (but it could be Jerome Kern or Cole Porter), let Astaire work with the choreographer to come up with a routine that hasn't been done before, give Ginger a song to sing, and then make sure that love conquers all at the end.  By today's standards, maybe it's just too simple by comparison.

From a dance point of view, this one's all about the melding of ballet and "modern" styles like tap, and I'm not really sure whether anyone in the public was clamoring for this to happen, other than Astaire himself.  A modern analogy would perhaps be trying to come up with a hit single that was part country music and part rap, just because they're both popular forms of music.  But it wouldn't necessarily work, because the styles are so different, and the audiences are so distinct as well.  My first question, in either case, would be, "But WHY?"

Astaire plays Petrov, a man dancing in a Paris ballet company with a Russian name, but who is secretly American - and believe me, his fake Russian accent is just horrible.  He's being pursued by one woman, Lady Tarrington, but he's only got eyes for Linda Keene, a famous American tap dancer. He makes plans to meet her, and then books passage (along with his requisite bumbling manager) on the Queen Mary, once he finds out she'll be traveling on it.  To get rid of Lady Tarrington, the manager tells her that Petrov and Linda are secretly married, but she goes right out and tells the press this rumor.

As for Linda, even though she's bonding with Petrov while on the ship, she gets outraged when the rumor spreads too far, and she gets so mad that she books an airplane off the ship (wait, how is that even possible, it's not an aircraft carrier...) and flies ahead to New York to get engaged to another man.  Meanwhile, her managers photograph a wax dummy of her in bed with Petrov while he sleeps, because they've got their own reasons for continuing the marriage rumor, which honestly, are not quite clear - at least, I didn't understand them.  I don't even want to KNOW how or why her managers took a wax dummy that looks just like her with them on a trip across the Atlantic.

When Petrov arrives in New York and catches up with Linda, the movie logic really breaks down - they decide that the only way to stop the marriage rumors is to get married for real, and then get a divorce.  Right.  Just as the only sure-fire way to prevent a hangnail is to cut your whole hand off.  But they get married, and then more relationship confusion as Linda catches Petrov with Lady Tarrington again.  Geez, if only there were a way to stage another complicated dance number that would explain everything.

As fate would have it, there is - and this one involves a variety of women wearing mask of Ginger Rogers' face.  Which, once you get past the creepier aspects of THAT, I guess means that whatever woman Petrov is with, he's really thinking about Linda.  That's really not as romantic as it sounds, but again, I guess that was enough, back in a simpler time. But I think by the time you're putting your star dancers on roller skates, it's a sign of franchise fatigue.

NITPICK POINT: All these rich people brought their dogs with them on a cruise ship?  I find that hard to believe.  I've been on three cruises and never saw one dog on any of them.  Barring the customs and quarantine problems involved in bringing your pet to another country, how would that even work?  Where would you walk them, and where would they go to the bathroom?  And wouldn't you always be afraid that your dog would run across the deck and jump over the side, into the ocean? I don't know, maybe things were different for rich people back in the 1930's, but I just don't get this.

NITPICK POINT #2: Same problem with the ballet dancers, seen practicing a routine on the ocean liner.  Wouldn't the natural rocking of the boat make this into something less than an ideal situation?

Also starring Edward Everett Horton (last seen in "Top Hat"), Eric Blore (also carrying over from "Top Hat"), Jerome Cowan, Ketti Gallian, William Brisbane

RATING: 4 out of 10 to-may-toes / to-mah-toes

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