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  Royal Wedding Dancing On The Ceiling
Year: 1951
Director: Stanley Donen
Stars: Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Peter Lawford, Sarah Churchill, Keenan Wynn, Albert Sharpe, John R. Reilly, Jack Daley, Viola Roache, James Finlayson
Genre: Musical, Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Tom Bowen (Fred Astaire) performs in a musical act with his sister Ellen (Jane Powell), and tonight they are going through their royalty routine, with Ellen playing the maid to Tom's King. As usual, it goes down very well with the audience, but once they get offstage Tom is less than satisfied with their quality and Ellen complains that because the air conditioning was turned off to save money it was to hot for them. But any grumblings are soon forgotten when she notices her latest boyfriend, Pete (John R. Reilly) waiting by her dressing room door; however, there is even better news. The duo have been selected to perform in the United Kingdom - what an opportunity!

It may have been themed to cash in on the real royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth (who never appears, incidentally) four years before, but there were sequences in this film that made it stand out nevertheless. Loosely based on the career of Astaire whose earlier dancing partner had been his sister Adele Astaire, this was generally thought of as one of the lesser of his musicals, but with Stanley Donen at the helm, for the first time solo, there were innovations in at least every routine that showed this was no quick run through to remind audiences of its star's past glories.

The plot finds romance for both Tom and Ellen, but we soon find out that she has been somewhat generous with her affections and currently has three boyfriends to wave her off as she embarks on the cruise to Britain. She then has the cheek to look down on Peter Lawford's character for smooching goodbye to two separate women, but little does she know that he is the man of her dreams. He is also a Lord, Lord John Brindale as it transpires, to add that measure of class to the story, although with Astaire enjoying the lion's share of numbers, it's not really necessary.

Once they reach London, rehearsals begin on their show, and Tom gets his own love interest with an auditioning dancer played by Sarah Churchill, yes, the daughter of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. If that didn't impress the Americans of the day, I don't know what would, even if the future Queen didn't deign to appear (imagine her dancing with Astaire!). But the problems that Tom and Ellen find are that while they would be happy to settle down with these new partners, they don't feel brave enough to split up their act; it's not much of a problem in a true love conquers all musical, but it's not the ho-hum narrative that Royal Wedding is famous for anyway.

No, it's those dance sequences and Astaire is as captivating as ever. The songs, co-written by scriptwriter Alan Jay Lerner with Burton Lane, may strike you as rather insipid until about the halfway mark and the two leads rollick their way through How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I've Been a Liar All My Life?, which holds the record for longest title of any of the songs in Hollywood musicals, and is a lot of fun into the bargain. But it's the dancing you'll recall, with Donen fitting in a distinctive bit in every one: Astaire hoofing with the coat stand, ballroom dancing with Powell when the ship begins to list back and forth dramatically, and the ingenious scene where Astaire dances up the wall and onto the ceiling, a justly celebrated highlight. The work versus love motif is too easily worked out, and the film could have done with a grander finale, but Royal Wedding has its moments.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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