Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Movies
In 1933, RKO paired two supporting actors in the film Flying Down to Rio in a dance scene for the musical number “Carioca”. The end result was a scene completely stolen by two performers who would become one of the greatest duos in musical history. Coming from the world of Broadway Fred Astaire was seen as a man of little screen value but had some solid dancing chops. Originally from vaudeville, Ginger Rogers had been working hard to make it in Hollywood, and a performance in Gold Diggers of 1933 finally got her some notice from the big wigs. With their instant chemistry now apparent, RKO seized on the chance to make them stars. Over the course of 10 movies, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers wowed audiences with their comedic chops, banter and most of all graceful dancing they were able to execute effortlessly. Fred was already a dancing force from the stage but Ginger could do everything he could too, with the extra obstacle of doing it backwards and in high heels. Today these two are icons of musical cinema with names recognizable to those who have never even seen their movies.
Flying Down to Rio (1933): As mentioned in the intro neither Fred nor Ginger was the stars of this movie, instead Gene Raymond and Dolores del Rio had that honor. Astaire played Fred Ayers, a bandleader helping Raymond’s character win over an engaged woman. Over the course of the movie he bonds with a singer played by Rogers and with one dance number movie magic is made.
The Gay Divorcee (1934): Many would claim that this Pre-Code romantic comedy was the best collaboration between the two. On a voyage to Europe to finalize her divorce from a husband who has seemingly left her, Mimi (Rogers) crosses paths with American dancer Guy (Astaire). He falls for her and once they arrive in England tracks her down. What follows is a hysterical series of events between the two. Combining a sharp screenplay with stellar musical numbers, including the Oscar winning “The Continental” the Gay Divorcee overcame censorship claims to become a hit and stands as the most iconic film of Fred and Ginger.
Roberta (1935): Travelling to Paris to reunite with an old friend, bandleader Huck (Astaire) learns his pal John (Randolph Scott) has inherited a posh gown shop. It is here that Huck crosses paths with the temperamental Countess Scharwenka who is in actuality is his old girlfriend Lizzie. Soon a talented designer named Stephanie (Irene Dunne) arrives at the shop and looks to be the one who can help John and Huck salvage the clothing shop with an idea for a full-fledged fashion show.
Top Hat (1935): The other film that cinephiles argue is the best that Fred and Ginger did together. This musical screwball comedy features Astaire as American musician Jerry Travers who while travelling to London meets Dale (Rogers) under incredibly unpleasant circumstances. Despite this he naturally falls for her. Making things even more difficult for Jerry, Dale believes that he is actually the husband of her friend Madge (Helen Broderick) therefore is off-limits. Perhaps most famous for the musical number “Cheek to Cheek” and Ginger’s attention-grabbing gown, Top Hat still wows audiences even today.
Follow the Fleet (1936): Upon making port at San Francisco, Navy man “Bake” Baker (Astaire) looks to reunite with his old dance partner Sherry (Rogers). A series of mishaps involving his friend “Bilge” (Randolph Scott) and Sherry’s sister Connie (Harriet Hilliard) finds Bake pitching in for a show to save a ship. It all leads to a trip to Broadway….and the brig.
Swing Time (1936): High rolling gambler “Lucky” Garnett (Astaire) breaks off his engagement to Margaret Wilson (Betty Funress) but now wants her back. Margaret’s father says if he can raise $25,000 he can have another shot with his daughter. He hopes to earn that money in New York where he meets Penny (Rogers) a dance teacher who he thinks can help him out. But over time she is the one he begins to develop feelings for. The cinematography and art deco set designs of Swing Time may make it the most visually impressive of their pictures. However, one can not avoid Fred Astaire’s intended tribute to his legendary tap dancing mentor Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. What should have been a visually stunning dance number is undercut by the dancer’s horrid decision to perform it in blackface.
Shall We Dance (1937): This film allowed Astaire to show off his immense talent in ballet as he plays “Petrov’ Peters a member of a Paris-based troupe. He is eager to blend his classical ballet stylings with modern Jazz and believes he finds a perfect partner in tap dancer Linda (Rogers). The two meet on an ocean-liner headed towards New York where the press works overtime to make them a couple. Shall We Dance benefits greatly from the talents of the legendary George Gershwin conducting the music with each number expertly crafted in a different style.
Carefree (1938): Singer Amanda Cooper (Rogers) refuses to accept the proposals of her boyfriend Stephen (Ralph Bellamy). Stephen is forced to turn to his psychiatrist friend Dr. Tony Flagg (Astaire) for help. His attempts to psychoanalyze the musician eventually lead to them falling hard for each other. With no other option, Tony resorts to hypnosis to fix the situation which only makes things more fun for the audience. While there are not as many musical numbers as one usually finds in an Astaire/Rogers film the ones that are there all hit right on the target.
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939): Irene Foote (Rogers) has dreams of hitting it big and finds the perfect, albeit reluctant partner in slapstick stand-up Vernon Castle (Astaire). While their collaboration is initially troubled, over time that chemistry forms. A trip to Paris eventually turns them into stars as they regale audiences at the prestigious Café de Paris. Their fame and fortune is abruptly halted with the onslaught of the First World War, leading to a heartbreaking end. Overall this is a far more serious film than the two usually did.
The Barkleys of Broadway (1949): Not only was this the only non-RKO produced picture they did together (this was an MGM production) but it was the only picture they made in color. Fred was cast as Josh Barkley and originally Judy Garland was cast opposite as Dinah Barkley. But after the Wizard of Oz star was forced to drop out, the path was paved for Fred and Ginger to reunite for one last time after a decade apart. The two had not lost a step as a famed husband-wife comedy/musical duo. When Dinah is sought out by a serious French playwright the two split, luckily Josh is not going to give up that easily and puts forward a complex plan to win her back.