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Article 2

Astaire: The Memory of All That

By Calendar assistant editor David Fox and Times intern Carrie Yoshimura from USC, using clips provided by the Times Editorial Library and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

The Los Angeles Times June 28, 1987, Page 2

Fred Astaire, who died at age 88 on Monday, generally received great reviews for his dancing films of the 1930s and 1940s. Here are excerpts of what some critics had to say about his better remembered films -- judged when they were new, not as the classics we think of today:

'Flying Down to Rio'

By Mordaunt Hall, New York Times, 1933

An impressive series of scenes are devoted to a dance known as the Carioca. During this interlude that nimble-toed Fred Astaire and the charming Ginger Rogers give a performance of this Carioca. The music is delightful, and besides Mr. Astaire and Miss Rogers many other persons dance the extraordinarily rhythmic Carioca, one feature of which happens to be that of the couples pressing their foreheads together as they glide around the floor.

'The Gay Divorcee'

By Andre Sennwald, New York Times, 1934

Last season it was the Carioca which persuaded the foolhardy to bash their heads together. Now the athletic RKO-Radio strategists have created the Continental, an equally strenuous routine in which you confide your secret dreams to your partner under the protective camouflage of the music.

For expert instruction consult the agile team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in 'The Gay Divorcee, ' which put everybody in a bright humor at the Radio City Music Hall yesterday. According to the song writers:

"It has a passion, the Continental, an invitation to moonlight and romance; it's quite the fashion, the Continental, because you tell of your love while you dance."

Anyhow, it provides Mr. Astaire with a musical theme to match his nimble feet, although, when executed domestically, it probably will lack something of his polish.

'Roberta'

By "Bige.," Variety, 1935

As with "The Gay Divorcee, " they'll be watching the bottom of the screen whenever Astaire is on, often but not too often. When not dancing in 'Roberta' Astaire is trying for laughs, and he can 'light' comedy with the best of them. Which makes it a lot safer for Astaire in pictures in case they ever tire of the stepping.

In Ginger Rogers, and as long as he can continue dancing on the screen, Astaire has found an ideal partner. Miss Rogers dances well enough to be able to hold her own in the stepping numbers, which is something when dancing with Astaire. Besides which she looks better and works better with each succeeding picture.

The Film Daily, (no byline)

Fred Astaire dances, Ginger Rogers and Astaire dance, Astaire sings, Miss Rogers sings, Irene Dunne sings, beautiful gowns that draw nothing but ah's and oh's, in fact some creations that drew applause, Astaire dances, Rogers and Astaire dance, and you have the wow you want -- "Roberta."

By Andre Sennwald, New York Times

The work is a model for urbanity in the musical films and Mr. Astaire, the debonair master of light comedy and the dance, is its chief ornament. To watch him skipping on effortless cat's feet across a dance floor is to experience one of the major delights of the contemporary cinema. For Mr. Astaire's dancing is not only an aesthetic excitement, but also comedy of a unique and lofty order.

'Top Hat'

By the Boulevardier, Screen & Radio Weekly, 1935

Beside his great artistry, 16 weeks of rehearsing and working plus endless enthusiasm have enabled Fred Astaire to give his legion of admirers one perfect round of entertainment. For the first time we get to see enough of Astaire's dancing, which is a big order. But even if he hadn't danced a single step, his work as a light comedian would have sent any audience away wreathed in smiles . . . Irving Berlin's music was beautiful. Half the preview audience was unconsciously humming "Cheek to Cheek" as the crowd left the theater.

By Andre Sennwald, New York Times

Fred Astaire, the dancing master, and Miss Rogers, his ideal partner, bring all their joyous gifts to the new song-and-dance show at the Radio City Music Hall . . . .

Last year, this column suggested that Miss Jessie Matthews would make a better partner for the debonair star than our own home girl. Please consider the matter dropped. Miss Rogers, improving magnificently from picture to picture, collaborates perfectly with Mr. Astaire in "Top Hat" and is entitled to keep the job for life.

By "Sid," Variety

The theatres will hold their own world series with this one. It can't miss and the reasons are three -- Fred Astaire, Irving Berlin's songs and sufficient comedy between numbers to hold the film together.

But on story "Top Hat" is a masquerade, and behind the very thin mask is "Gay Divorcee. " That won't make any difference because "Roberta" has spaced "Divorcee" and "Hat" while Astaire's routines, his singing and Berlin's melodies and lyrics are of such strength as to smother any other consideration. It's Irving Berlin's initial film chore and the first time he and Astaire have ever worked together, stage or screen, the result being a piece of work worth everything it will get and it'll be plenty . . . .

. . . A lot of people are going to have a tough time deciding which tune they like best between "Lovely Day" and "Cheek to Cheek." However, there can be no question as to either of the dance concerned. The Astaire-Rogers routine to "Day" is outstanding, that for "Cheek" is nice but not important . . . .

It might also be noted that Hermes Pan, who staged the production numbers, has kept away from the animated pinwheels and revolving swastikas which often make audiences cross-eyed.

'Follow the Fleet'

By "Bige," Variety, 1936

Fred Astaire, the Chris Columbus for the boys and girls on the hoof, hasn't missed yet. And "Follow the Fleet" follows his others around the bases, keeping the record clean. With Ginger Rogers again opposite, and the Irving Berlin music to dance to and sing, Astaire once more legs himself and his picture into the big-time entertainment class . . . .

But where the script is concerned there is room for improvement even at this post-production date. That 110 minutes running time is way overboard. Footage could stand a 20-minute shrink . . . .

All the star team's dancing efforts are honeys. Miss Rogers in this one goes beyond the role of dancing vis-a-vis for Astaire and emerges as a corking stepper in her own right. Her assimilation of the Astaire method now permits wider scope in the routines, and that Astaire has taken advantage of this is notable in all three of their doubles. In a rehearsal dance on a boat deck they really go eccentric. There is no better comedy than dancing comedy, and this is dancing comedy at its best . . . .

'Swing Time'

By Frank S. Nugent, New York Times, 1936

That was no riot outside the Music Hall yesterday; it was merely the populace storming the Rockefeller's cinema citadel for a glimpse of the screen's nimblest song-and-dance team, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, in their latest festival, "Swing Time." Maybe they felt better about it than we did. We left the theatre feeling definitely let down. The picture is good, of course. It would have to be with that dancing, with those Victor Moore, Helen Broderick and Eric Blore. But after "Top Hat," "Follow the Fleet" and the rest, it is a disappointment.

Blame it, primarily, upon the music. Jerome Kern has shadow-boxed with swing when he should have been trying to pick out a few companion pieces to "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and "I Won't Dance." Maybe we have no ear for music (do we hear cries of 'No! No!') but right now we could not even whistle a bar of "A Fine Romance," and that's about the catchiest and brightest melody in the show . . . .

If, by any chance, you are harboring any fears that Mr. Astaire and Miss Rogers have lost their magnificent sense of rhythm, be reassured. Their routines, although slightly more orthodox than usual, still exemplify ballroom technique at its best. And Mr. Astaire's solo tapping in the Bojangles number, with three giant silhouettes keeping step on the wall in the background, is one of the best things he has done.

' Shall We Dance'

By "Sid.," Variety, 1937

For Astaire, "Shall We Dance" offers final proof of his being head man as to dancing, just in case there ever was any doubt. Prior to this, he has only hinted at the ballet work of which he is capable, mixing it up with those hot breaks. Here he really pours it on and they'll like it.

Regarding the songs by George and Ira Gershwin, which included "They Can't Take That Away from Me," the critic wrote: "All are attractive and have been, and will be, heard repeatedly. There is also nothing the matter with brother Ira's lyrics . . . .

By Frank S. Nugent, New York Times

Mark Sandrich, who has directed most of these Astaire-Rogers films, professes a resentment at the critical habit of referring to the "Astaire-Rogers formula." That makes Mr. Sandrich one of the few people in history who ever have objected to being told they had found the recipe for success. Of course the pictures are formularized. But the amazing thing about them is their knack -- or is that merely another word for the buoyancy of the stars? -- of seeming fresh and individual and sparkling . . . .

'The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle'

By Frank S. Nugent, New York Times, 1939

Broadway, which does not believe in miracles, has been referring to the casting of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the Music Hall's "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle" as a "natural" and in a sense it is. Certainly there are no two persons in the world today more perfectly qualified to celebrate the history of the famous dancing team, the Castles, than the famous dancing team of Fred and Ginger. At first glance they seem to be as benign a gesture from drama's divinity as the finding of Raymond Massey when young Abe Lincoln was needed, or the production of a Robert Morley to play Oscar Wilde or the selection of Paul Muni for the role of Emile Zola.

But the story of the Castles happens to be a story of a tragedy and that is where doubt rears its ugly head. Rogers and Astaire have been so closely identified with light comedy in the past that finding them otherwise employed is practically as disconcerting as it would be if Walt Disney were to throw Mickey to the lions and let Minnie Mouse be devoured by a non-regurgitative giant. (The comparison may be far-fetched and undignified, but it's the first that occurs.) . . . Nevertheless, what is left makes much better entertainment than most cinemusicals.

'The Barkleys of Broadway'

By Edwin Schallert, Los Angeles Times, 1949

More than a minor movie miracle is accomplished in the reunion of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in "The Barkleys of Broadway". . . .

They have turned out a capital show. It takes one back to the days when musicals were really musicals on the screen -- or appeared so anyway.

With such a specialty as the dancing shoes number, Astaire is definitely back in the stride that he struck when he was at his height. The stepping footgear really has wings in this number, which is splendidly executed fantasy. Hermes Pan and a cameraman, Irving G. Ries, get the credit.

By Louella O. Parsons, Los Angeles Examiner

It took daring showmanship on the part of MGM to bring back the dance team that was the cream in everyone's coffee about 13 years ago -- meaning, of course, the incomparable Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in "Barkleys of Broadway" . . . .

My, it's good to have them back. Dance teams have come and gone -- and Ginger and Fred have had other partners -- but none has had the finesse, the grace and smoothness of the original dreamboats. You realize that with each new dance number as "Barkleys" unreels, in Technicolor.

By Frank Eng, Los Angeles Daily News

Fans will reminisce while watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers attempt to recapture the old magic they engendered almost a generation ago . . . .

. . . "The Barkleys of Broadway" is going to suffer. The Astaire-Rogers combine that fans will remember was refreshing and vital; the original screenplay supplied by Betty Comden and Adolph Green for the current exhibit is uninspired and completely predictable.

The New Yorker

"The Barkleys of Broadway" is distinguished chiefly by the fact that it brings Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers together once more. They're both still spry and effortless in their dancing, and it's a pleasure to have them around. However, there are an awful lot of foolish dramatics connected with the picture, which has to do with an old-time dance team that splits up because the lady member wants to go on to something serious . . . . The production numbers in this one aren't up to the sort of thing Mr. Astaire and Miss Rogers did in other days, but there are some nice new tunes and a couple of George Gershwin's old ones.

Newsweek (no byline)

This may not be the best film the famous song-and-dance team has made in nine collaborations, but it is a gay and stimulating offering much in their old manner. The co-stars of "Flying Down to Rio" and "Top Hat" are back, and very welcome.

CAPTION: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers went nose to nose in their first photo session while making "Flying Down to Rio." Courtesy of Roger Sapp, Bijou Collectables

© 1987 The Times Mirror Company

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