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  Top Hat Dancing The Night Away
Year: 1935
Director: Mark Sandrich
Stars: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, Helen Broderick, Lucille Ball, Dennis O'Keefe
Genre: Musical, Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: In London's exclusive Thackeray Club for gentlemen sits Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) reading the newspaper and waiting. Inside the club rooms there is to be silence at all times, so when he clears his throat he receives some disapproving glares from the members. At last, the fellow he has been waiting for arrives, Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton), a big time theatre producer who has hired his old friend Jerry for his latest show. One thing Horace doesn't want is any scandal so he is very careful to ensure Jerry behaves, but his new star is a mischievous sort, and is on the lookout for love...

Top Hat was one of the biggest hits of the nineteen-thirties, and cemented Astaire and Ginger Rogers' reputation as two of the biggest stars of the era. Plotwise it's similar to their previous hit, The Gay Divorcee, and unlike that film enjoyed the benefit of Irving Berlin songs to accompany the Hermes Pan moves, with the result that it's one of the brightest films in this dancing duo's repertoire. Scripted by Alan Scott and Dwight Taylor, it's a comedy of errors and mistaken identity that anyone in the real world would have sorted out in five minutes.

But then it would be a much shorter film, so Astaire's Jerry and Rogers' Dale run rings around each other in a "but you thought I... but I thought you..." manner. Their first encounter is one of the most sparkling examples of "meeting cute" in Hollywood history when Jerry goes back to Horace's hotel suite and is feeling on top of the world, so what else can he do but dance and sing? It's a fantastic number and Astaire's grace and energy are well to the fore, yet one person not appreciating the tap dancing is Dale, trying to sleep in the room below.

She goes upstairs to give Jerry a piece of her mind, but ends up being charmed against her better judgement and he is immediately intrigued. To soothe her he allows her to go to bed then performs a sand dance to help her drift off to sleep, and the next day he commandeers her horse and carriage to take her to the riding club. In this film, it's Astaire who seems to be in charge as he does most of the singing, and gets more solo numbers than Rogers too (she gets precisely, erm, none). But when they dance together, you're witnessing movie magic.

The same can't quite be said of the storyline which has Dale believing Jerry is Horace, and seeing as how Horace is married to her pal Madge (Helen Broderick) Dale is most offended, thinking she's the victim of an unscrupulous lothario. Just when this threatens to grow tiresome, the film recovers with a routine - witness Astaire's brilliant "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" where he mimes shooting his dancers with his cane and the snap of his tap shoes. Blessed with an excellent supporting cast, the jokes are pretty good, ranging from ridiculous wordplay to camp humour (and a couple of gay jokes that somehow got past the censors). Rogers' only song is the silly "Piccolino" and Astaire looks as if he's thinking, "Boy, what a dumb tune" as he listens to her, but if Top Hat is more a showcase for him than her, it's still one of their finest films.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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