Showman Jerry Travers is working for producer Horace Hardwick in London. Jerry demonstrates his new dance steps late one night in Horace's hotel, much to the annoyance of sleeping Dale Tremont below. She goes upstairs to complain and the two are immediately attracted to each other. Complications arise when Dale mistakes Jerry for Horace.
Fred Astaire ... Jerry Travers
Ginger Rogers ... Dale Tremont
Edward Everett Horton ... Horace Hardwick
Erik Rhodes ... Alberto Beddini
Eric Blore ... Bates
Helen Broderick ... Madge Hardwick
DivX 5 / MP3
TOP HAT is the quintessential Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film--it might be the first of their nine pairings together that I've seen, but already I can tell just what it is that makes 'Fred & Ginger' almost a brand-name everywhere. Neither Fred Astaire nor Ginger Rogers wanted to get too stereotyped as being the other's partner (Rogers especially took roles specifically to get away from being typecast as one half of a dancing team), but watching them dance, you really couldn't imagine their names coming apart in conversation. It will always have to be 'Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers', because their dancing takes your breath away. The fact that it is incredibly technically complicated is itself astounding... what makes it all the better is that they make it look so darn easy and natural.
Astaire plays Jerry Travers, a professional dancer who meets and falls in love with Dale Tremont (Rogers). He tries very hard to woo her, by filling her room with flowers and singing her through a storm (the beautiful "Isn't This A Lovely Day"). Dale, unfortunately, mistakes him for her friend Madge's husband, Horace Hardwick (played with acerbic relish by Edward Everett Horton). The comedy of errors continues for most of the film, since Dale continually mistakes Jerry for Horace (regaling Madge with 'Horace's' attempts at romancing her), and her costume designer Alberto Beddini is therefore convinced that Horace is the one he must 'kill'--so as to avenge Ms. Tremont.
The plotline itself is slightly fantastical, littered with just enough eccentric characters to have you falling off your seat laughing at some of the things they do and say. Erik Rhodes as Beddini, for example, has some of the best lines in the film--"I'm a-rich and a-pretty..." He practically steals the show, which is hard given the presence of veteran scene-stealers like Horton and Helen Broderick as Madge Hardwick. Although the comedy of errors arising from the mistaken identity wears a bit thin after a while, it *does* provide some absolutely top-notch comic moments. Take the scene when Madge urges Dale to dance with Jerry--the look of utter *un*comprehension on Dale's face when Madge keeps urging them to dance closer is most certainly one for the DVD pause button. ;)
Aside from the dancing (which is sublime, and undescribable--'Fred & Ginger' is something you have to see in action for yourself to believe), the score is brilliant. Irving Berlin has penned some of the most beautiful songs ever, and here we have just a small but certainly representative sampling of them, with "Isn't This A Lovely Day", "Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails", and, of course, "Cheek To Cheek"... a classic by any standard.
What Fred & Ginger lack in palpable, explosive chemistry (along the lines of that shared by Tracy and Hepburn, or Bogart and Bacall), however, they more than make up for in their perfect synchronicity with each other--they're perfectly in tune through every dance sequence, and that's a delight, and amazing, to see.
Overall the film is a bit uneven, coasting along on the charm of its dancing leads. But it's most certainly one that's worth watching, quite simply so you can finally say that you've seen a Fred/Ginger movie, and now know what all that fuss was about. Because, goodness, there really is nothing quite so magical as when Astaire takes Rogers in his arms and spins her around a dance floor, defying gravity and all laws of motion.
Physics means nothing when it comes to these two...
* Early drafts of the script called for Irving Berlin songs "Wild About You", "Get Thee Behind Me, Satan" (to be sung by Ginger Rogers) and "You're the Cause", but they were not used in the final version.
* Beddini's motto was originally, "For the men the sword, for the women the whip." The script was changed to "For the women the kiss, for the men the sword" after the censors objected.
* For contrast to the "Big White Set" of the Lido, the water in the canals was dyed black.
* During "Cheek to Cheek", Ginger Rogers' gown shed its feathers, exasperating Fred Astaire and causing delays in order to sew the feathers down. Rogers earned the nickname "Feathers" from Astaire as a result.
* Ginger Rogers had planned an elaborate blue dress, heavily decked out with ostrich feathers, for the "Cheek to Cheek" routine. Once director Mark Sandrich and Fred Astaire saw it, they knew that the dress would get in the way of the dance routine. Sandrich suggested that Rogers wear the white gown she had worn for the "Night and Day" number in The Gay Divorcee (1934). Rogers felt that all the men of the production were ganging up on her, and enlisted the support of her mother, Lela E. Rogers. The arguments got so heated that Rogers ended up walking off the set, only to return when Sandrich agreed to let her wear the offending dress. As there was no time for rehearsals, she wore the dress for the first time on camera, and, just as Astaire and Sandrich feared, feathers started to come off the dress. In his autobiography, Astaire claimed it was like "a chicken being attacked by a coyote". The dress is in the final film and some stray feathers can be seen drifting off it, albeit not quite to the same extent as Astaire would have us believe. To patch up the rift between them, a few days later Astaire presented his co-star with a locket of a gold feather. It was from this incident that Rogers nickname of "Feathers" came about.
* Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance together five times in this film. They would dance that many times together in only this film.
* The end portion film was trimmed down after a preview audience complained of the length. Small parts by Donald Meek and Florence Roberts were cut. One of the last scenes to go, in which Eric Blore insults a policeman, is still present in some prints (including the RKO Collection videotape version from Turner Home Entertainment).
* A 78-minute version of the film was released by RKO in 1953. Cuts to the dance numbers were severe. Prints are still in circulation.
* The two-minute dance of "The Piccolino" was filmed in one take.
* Earned $3 million at the box office (a huge amount at the time), the only other film in 1935 to outgross it being Mutiny on the Bounty (1935).
* One of the productions that rescued RKO from bankruptcy (the other being King Kong (1933).)
* Fred Astaire didn't care for the big finale production number "The Piccolino" so he handed singing duties on it over to Ginger Rogers.
* The titles appear over a top hat. Vincente Minnelli would borrow this device for the titles of The Band Wagon (1953) in 1953.
* The first time Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers had a screenplay written specifically for them.
* Erik Rhodes' Italian characterization so offended the Italian government - and dictator Benito Mussolini in particular - that the film was banned in Italy. The same fate befell The Gay Divorcee (1934) the year before.
* Mark Sandrich, who directed five of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals, was a physicist before he got into filmmaking, and would devise blueprints for every scene, so he would know exactly where to put the cameras and the actors.
* In one scene at the Lido, Madge orders a drink called a "horse's neck". It is traditionally served with a spiral of lemon (or orange) peel hanging over the edge of the glass, suggesting the curve of a horse's neck. It calls for 2 oz of bourbon or brandy, 4 oz of ginger ale, and a dash of bitters, over ice.