Professional dancer Lucky Garnett (Fred Astaire) is getting married today, and because he has had to perform this afternoon he is already late for the big occasion. However, his colleagues, including magician Pop (Victor Moore), don't want him to leave them and showbusiness just for the sake of love and do their best to delay him. They come up with an idea as Lucky gets changed: drawing cuffs onto the trousers of a picture of what the stylish man about town is wearing, they persuade him to wait until Pop returns from the tailor with his clothes. All the while his fiancée Margaret (Betty Furness) is growing impatient - soon the wedding will be called off and Lucky will have some explaining to do...
Perhaps the sweetest of all the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals, which is probably the reason Rogers named it as her favourite of their collaborations, Swing Time was notable for not having the couple at the beck and call of the usual misunderstandings in the script (here by Howard Lindsay and Allan Scott). They are at cross purposes to some extent, but largely this is down to Lucky trying not to fall in love with Rogers' Penny, a dance instructor he meets in New York. What is he doing there? Well, they don't call him Lucky for nothing and he's there to win his fortune gambling so the wedding can go ahead after all.
In just one of many breezy touches to the story, Lucky is left with only the clothes he stands up in (top hat and tails, naturally) when Pop, accompanying him, loses his suitcase. With but one lucky quarter to his name, our hero buys a pack of cigarettes for Pop, but ends up winning the jackpot when the cigarette machine dispenses cash like a one armed bandit, and so he can now get the quarter back from the woman he got change from. And she, of course, is Penny, leading to a mixup which sees her humiliated in the street by a policeman when Lucky tries to sort it out.
Ah, you may say, we know how this goes, he'll spend the rest of the film trying to win her around but actually it takes one dance so Penny can get her job back from boss Eric Blore to make her see that Lucky is the man for her. He sees their partnership turning professional so he can rustle up some cash, but she wants something more emotionally lasting, unaware that he has been promised to another. For the first half hour the film concentrates on the comedy - the original opening number was cut for reasons of time - but once Astaire and Rogers have finally performed together then a light and unexpectedly poignant romance develops.
That's not to say the laughs dry up, because they don't: Swing Time is a stylishly witty film though not above silliness (Astaire getting Rogers' lipstick on his face when he kisses her, for example). And the music is some of the greatest the duo ever were to sing, written by Jerome Kern with lyrics by Dorothy Fields, songs that are still well known today and receiving unbeatable interpretations: A Fine Romance, Pick Yourself Up and Astaire's sublime rendering of The Way You Look Tonight. The dancing, too, is unimpeachably terrific; watch especially for Astaire's solo Bojangles of Harlem, which may be unpalatable today for being enacted in blackface, yet look at the skill on display in what was a sincere tribute to Bill Robinson (this is where he dances with the three silhouettes of himself looming behind him). But really, both he and Rogers were rarely better and their screen relationship here is one of the most touching of any musical of any era.