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  Roberta French Lessons
Year: 1935
Director: William A. Seiter
Stars: Irene Dunne, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Randolph Scott, Helen Westley, Claire Dodd, Victor Varconi, Luis Albineri, Ferdinand Munier, Torben Meyer, Adrian Rosley, Bodil Rosing, Lucille Ball
Genre: Musical, Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: This Parisien nightclub owner, Voyda (Luis Albineri), was expecting a dance band of authentic American Indians to arrive today, but he is much dismayed to see he has booked The Wabash Indianians, who may be American but assuredly are not Indians. Their leader, Huckleberry Haines (Fred Astaire), gets his best friend John Kent (Randolph Scott) to grab the quickly departing Voyda and they put on an impromptu number for him right there in the port - but he's still unimpressed.

Not to worry, this is a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie, so we'll be having more musical numbers presently, but as this was their third and they were the draw RKO didn't quite think they were, here the duo got stuck in support to a pretty stodgy romance between the prudish Kent and dress designer Stephanie played by Irene Dunne. She was top billed, and trilled a few tunes herself in scenes which only went to show director William A. Seiter was not entirely sure what to do with her, placing her in static shots while she sang, but nothing more imaginative than that.

As Dunne was awarded just as many songs as Astaire and Rogers, the film suffered from dips when she and Scott were working out their characters' uninteresting differences, but the show was just about saved by the hoofers, here at their most lively. Ginger played a Polish countess who happened to be a singer at Voyda's nightclub, except she's actually Lizzie Gatz, an old schoolfriend and almost-sweetheart of Huck's who they meet when they go to visit Kent's aunt (Helen Westley), a famous dress designer who goes by the business name of Roberta. There Kent meets cute with Stephanie and Huck rekindles the flame with Lizzie.

The latter in a delightful fashion, the former in a leaden manner, as Astaire and Rogers truly came across as enjoying each other's company this time, none of that frostiness their usual plots could bring about before the inevitable thaw, probably because they are playing a couple who were friends from way back. The songs were Jerome Kern works, the most famous being Smoke Gets In Your Eyes which Dunne performs with gusto, being set in her big emotional scene. Nevertheless, you'l have more fun with Fred and Ginger singing I Won't Dance, which naturally prompts him to go into remarkable high speed choreography.

Trouble with these sections is not that they don't fit in, more that there is not enough of them. Too much of the time we're meant to care that Kent's old girlfriend Sophie (Claire Dodd) has arrived in Paris to win him back, then Huck persuades her in his roundabout way to wear a dress Kent hates, though actually it was Sophie's determination that dooms her there. Then he thinks Stephanie is marrying a Russian Prince in another narrative dead end, especially as we are well aware that it will all be resolved by the final reel. To add to that, every so often the action halts to get a look at the Roberta fashions, and aside from an appearance by a young Lucille Ball as one of the models this does not make for exciting viewing. There's even a death halfway through that isn't exactly hilarious, taken from the original Broadway hit but not smoothly integrated here; what does entertain is that dancing, where the fun perks up considerably and you wish was in better surroundings.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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