I was thinking about how long it has been since I did a film from the 1930s… and then I watched Top Hat, which is my final film from 1935. This is probably my taste in movies shining through here, but it sucks how I have nearly stripped this decade bare. Still, there are some cool films left on this list from the 1930s – like Ninotchka, Stella Dallas and Mr Deeds Goes to Town – so I shouldn’t be too sad.
Anyway, today I decided to watch the second of the two Rogers-Astaire films on the 1001 list. The inspiration: an episode of Unspooled where they watched and talked about Swing Time, which is the other Rogers-Astaire film from the list. I still cannot believe that it has been four and a half years since I watched that… and weirdly enough it was one of the first films that I watched post-teaching breakdown.
If you want to watch a film for a coherent plot then Top Hat probably isn’t the one for you. However, if you want proof behind the enduring star power of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire – then this really is essential viewing. As I was watching this, I was really taken aback by the level of sheer talent possessed by both of these triple threats. Sure, the plot runs out of steam by the time we reach the final act – but damn it if these two didn’t sell the hell out of it.
I guess what I’m saying is that Top Hat is a musical confection that is elevated to classic status by the charisma of the two leads. Going into this, I forgot just how excellent an actress Ginger Rogers and just how mesmerising it was to watch her dance with Fred Astaire. Also, I don’t care what people say – but she was bang on the money when she fought to keep that ostrich feather dress as her outfit for ‘Cheek to Cheek’. She looks stunning in it and the way it moves as she dances makes her look like she’s dancing in Matrix bullet time.
Did I think this was better than Swing Time? In some ways yes, as the plot at least makes some sense (in a screwball comedy kind of way) and I think the songs themselves are better. Also, whilst it doesn’t have a sequence that has the sheer wow factor of ‘Never Gonna Dance’, it does come close with ‘Cheek to Cheek’. Also, ‘The Piccolino’ is a cute sequence.
One other thing worth noting is the amazing sets used for the second half of the film where they are meant to be in Venice. Every now and then you see a set onscreen where you want to go there and walk around (like the Egyptian set in Intolerance or a lot of those used in Metropolis and The Scarlet Empress), but this is some Disney theme park magic.