The Barkleys, Josh (Fred Astaire) and Dinah (Ginger Rogers) are the toast of Broadway with each successive show they perform there, and after tonight's staging they are brought out to take a bow with their musical director Ezra Millar (Oscar Levant), whereupon they lavish so much praise on one another, ascribing any credit to their partner, that Ezra has to stop their gushing because the audience don't know what to make of it. Finally, the couple are in the taxi back to their apartment and are still in full agreement that it all went very well, reassuring each other about their individual quality - oh, but maybe, says Josh, there was something Dinah could have improved upon, just a minor thing, and before they know it they're conducting a blazing row.
The Barkleys of Broadway was big news back in 1949 since after ten years away from one another in separate projects, the silver screen's most beloved dancing couple were back together in a musical, and this time, unlike their RKO productions, we could see them in full colour. In fact, this was supposed to be the follow up to Easter Parade for Astaire and Judy Garland, but she was suffering one of her breakdowns and rather than hold it up they decided to go ahead with Rogers seeing as how she liked the idea of a reunion. However, there's a reason this wasn't mentioned in the same breath as something like Top Hat or Swing Time, and that's because overall it was really pretty foolish.
You could pin the blame on a few causes, though not on Fred and Ginger who were game for anything Betty Comden and Adolph Green's script conjured up for them, it was just that the results were continually ridiculous. Now, fair enough you could go back to their nineteen-thirties classics and see some very silly storylines, but they were handled with wit, sophistication and a sense of skilled good fun whereas here they were obviously trying to recapture that particular tone without noting that by then, post-war, things had changed in the musical landscape. Indeed, there were numbers here among the worst things this pair had ever performed, the most blatant being the tribute to Scotland.
Hearing Fred, then Ginger, mangling the Scottish accent as they promenaded across the theatre stage in one of their invented shows (the plot of which was what, exactly? Who knows?) then spinning around with their kilts flying up (no true Scotsman Fred, you may be relieved to learn) was beneath their dignity even for a lighthearted musical, but there were other issues. Take impossible to perform live routine where Fred danced solo with animated shoes which kick him up the arse, stand on his toes and generally humiliate him, so much so he produced two revolvers and starts opening fire. Quite what director Charles Walters thought he was doing is a mystery, but the more restrained dances appeared to be more his forte, including finally a routine to They Can't Take That Away from Me.
As far as the storyline went, the arguing Barkleys are torn apart when jealousy rears its ugly head, both professional and romantic. What some found interesting was that although this was earmarked for Garland, the narrative bore some resemblance to the relationship between Astaire and Rogers; they were never romantically linked, but there were always rumours they never got on as well as they did before the cameras and Ginger had indeed gone off to try a dramatic career after her pairings with Fred. If this irked him, he never was so ungallant as to admit it, but you can imagine some went to watch this to see if they could discern any tension, though if they did they would be disappointed, they still enjoyed that effortless chemistry no matter what they thought of one another privately. Oscar Levant showed up as the best friend, but more to dispense the jokes the other stars couldn't and play a couple of classical pieces on the piano, demonstrating his great ability but holding up the action. All in all, a regrettable enterprise, no matter how nice it was to see them together once more. Music by Harry Warren and Ira Gershwin.