Old 08-19-2009, 02:21 PM
Mark Sandrich's Top Hat

Top Hat (1935)

Has there ever been a more famous dancing pair than Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger? I highly doubt it. Their multiple collaborations were a great success back in the 30s and led to what are probably their two most famous films, "Swing Time" and "Top Hat." Having now seen both films, and having enjoyed them both, I would have to say that I enjoyed "Top Hat" more than "Swing Time," mainly because of its bizarre story of mistaken identity.

The story begins as Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) is meeting his friend, Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton). Horace is going to produce the next show that Jerry is going to be in. While they are in their hotel room, Jerry begins to tap dance during the film's first musical number, which annoys the occupant of the room below them, Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers). This leads to a meeting between Jerry and Dale where Jerry falls in love, but Dale seems more annoyed at his presence.

The case of mistaken identity begins when a hotel clerk points out Horace for Dale (Horace is married to a friend of hers, Madge (Helen Broderick), but has not yet met him). Just then, Horace goes behind a chandelier where he can't be seen. There he runs into Jerry, who emerges from the other side of the chandelier carrying Horace's briefcase, while Horace goes back to the room to retrieve something he forgot. Dale then sees Jerry, thinking he's Horace. This begins to cause nothing but problems because, as we have already found out, Horace is married to Madge, making Dale think that Jerry's advances are adulterous.

As is the case with any Astaire & Rogers film, there are some marvelously choreographed dance sequences. This is the kind of movie where, when you see a hard floor, chances are, it will be danced on. The second Astaire entered the hotel room with the wooden floor, it was easy to guess what was going to happen, and sure enough, less than five minutes later, he was tap dancing. The most notable sequences in this film would have to be "Isn't it a Lovely Day?" and "Cheek to Cheek."

The first of these occurs in a gazebo where Jerry and Dale meet after Jerry has impersonated her coach driver and taken her to some riding stables. Jerry begins dancing, with Dale eventually joining in. This looked like it was almost done in one entire take, though I did notice one cut, but only one, still making it very impressive. The famous "Cheek to Cheek" (Oscar nominee for Best Original Song) dance sequence starts out amongst a crowd of people, but then the pair moves away to a conveniently empty dance floor where their dancing continues to delight and amaze.

What made this movie a true delight was its silly plot of mistaken identity. This was plot that was so fragile that it could have fallen apart at any moment, yet the film manages to keep it up for a good 90 minutes. To keep it fresh, the screenwriters, Dwight Taylor and Allan Scott, through in plenty of ridiculous twists that keep the plot going. Horace is missing at just the right times to keep Dale from realizing her mistake about Jerry. Madge just never really seems to care that Dale may be with her husband and when she sees Jerry and Dale together, she conveniently never calls Jerry by name.

I mentioned that the plot was fragile and could fall apart at any second, which is what made the ending kind of disappointing. The mistaken identity is cleared up very easily once some of the characters suddenly realize that Dale has been mistaking Jerry for Horace. It would have been nice if the realization had been done in a more interesting way. Considering the engaging twists that that writers came up with for the film, it figures they could have come up with one for when the mistake is revealed.

The ending itself drags on for a little too long, but only for a few minutes; basically enough time for another dance sequence while we are waiting for some of the other characters to return. The twist that the writers came up with was an excellent way to wrap things up so that Fred and Ginger could get together (Did you really have any doubt it would happen?).

Sure the plot is silly and completely contrived, but that's what makes a movie like this fun. That, and we get to see the masterful dancing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. There's got to be some reason that their movies have endured for over 70 years, and that reason would be that people still love seeing these two dance "Cheek to Cheek." 3/4 stars.
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