Top Hat (1935)
The love I have for musicals surpasses all reason. They do something for me that I’ve never been able to put into words. As a writer, I’m in a committed relationship with words and yet…. musicals leave me so speechless it’s as though words didn’t even exist.
When I’m sitting in my swivel rocker with my drink of choice (sweet raspberry tea, hot chocolate, grape juice, coffee) and at least one cat in my lap (usually 2) and I’m lost in a musical, all isn’t just right with the world… all is blissful, beautiful, serene, happy, and perfect. Sure, the same can be said when I’m parked in front of any old Hollywood movie (or I Love Lucy episode, for that matter) but musicals are just… I don’t know.. special.
My cats agree.
If you were to think of movies in terms of emotions – musicals are laughter. Joyful laughter! Maybe their fun, carefree nature is what makes me so drawn to them.
While I love all musicals, I have to confess that I have a special place in my heart for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. He’s one of my all-time favorite actors and she is one of my all-time favorite actresses. Put them both in a musical – how could I do anything but drift off to Seventh Heaven!?!
I actually tend to put off writing musical reviews because it’s so difficult for me to put their effect into words. In fact, I’ve had this Golden Age of Hollywood blog for many years, and if memory serves correctly, I’ve only written one or two musical reviews! Yet, in that time frame, I’ve watched and re-watched countless musicals. Trust me, countless.
Top Hat (Amazon) is an all-time favorite movie, not just an all-time favorite musical. It may sound a little (or a lot) corny but it’s delightful. Yes, I pulled out the d-word, dusted it off, and threw it down like a gantlet. Sorry, but it fits. The costumes, the dancing, the songs, the acting, the humor, the chemistry, the… everything… is just front to back and top to bottom delightful.
Top Hat (1935) was the 4th 0f 10 musicals Astaire and Rogers made together. This movie was, oddly enough, the first time the duo had a screenplay written specifically for them. The movie was directed by Mark Sandrich who directed five of their musicals (Top Hat, Shall We Dance, The Gay Divorcee, Carefree, and Follow the Fleet).
Plot: Fred Astaire plays an American dancer, Jerry Travers, who is full of charm and loaded with humor. Jerry is in Britain to perform when he meets and falls head over heels for a beautiful model, Dale Tremont. Dale is beautifully played by Ginger Rogers. While it’s love at first sight on his part, it’s far from the case for Dale. Not only does she find him to be greatly annoying, a case of mistaken identity causes her to think he’s a cad who isn’t just cheating on his wife… but a wife who happens to be her good friend.
Jerry has to win her over and the battle is where this musical makes movie magic. It’s just a lot of fun… and, yes… delightful.
The Chemistry Between Astaire and Rogers is As Good as It Gets
I remember the first time I saw Top Hat, I was expecting the beautiful clothes and the wonderful singing and dancing but the humor caught me off guard. I had, at that time, only thought of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and dancers and I was pleasantly surprised at what great actors they were as well. They convey so much with the simplest of expressions.
Expressions – sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But in my opinion, old Hollywood was ever so much better when it came to capitalizing on expressions and much more effective with pulling the viewers into the scenes with them. I think part of the reason is that they didn’t rely on special effects, lighting, and the other clicks and whistles today’s Hollywood stars share the screen with. The black and white classical movies didn’t even have color to help flesh out the story. So much came down to facial expressions and Astaire and Rogers were two of the masters.
Horace Hardwick: You mean to sit there and tell me that that girl slapped your face in front of all those people for nothing?
Jerry Travers: Well, what would you have done? Sold tickets?
One of my favorite Golden Age of Hollywood legends came about during the filming of Top Hat. For their “Cheek to Cheek” number, Ginger Rogers wanted to wear an gorgeous blue dress that was generously decked out with ostrich feathers! However, director Mark Sandrich and Fred Astaire didn’t think the dress was practical for the number. Feathers go all over the place and tend to fall off at the most inopportune times.
Sandrich suggested that Rogers wear a white dress she’d worn previously in another of their musicals. Rogers walked off the set, finally returning when Sandrich agreed to let her wear the dress with the magnificent feathers.
She actually wore the blue feathered dress for the first time during actual filming. As her leading man (Astaire) and director (Sandrich) had feared, feathers began flying off the dress.
Fred Astaire later described it as “…. a chicken being attacked by a coyote“.
Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire: The Cheek to Cheek Number
During the number, watch for stray feathers as she dances – you can see them delicately drifting away. Personally, I think it adds to the beauty of the scene and think she was exactly right – this is absolutely the dress she should have worn.
I love that Ginger Rogers stood up for herself and her feathers. She had to frequently change her shoes because all of the dancing made her feet bleed. Can you imagine? ALL that dancing in heels, no less. They should’ve given the lady all the feathers she wanted!
To make up for any hard feelings between them, Astaire presented Rogers with a locket of a gold feather. Obviously, this is where Ginger Rogers earned the nickname “Feathers.”
Top Hat: Cheek to Cheek: