Roberta (1935)

“John, everyday you act worse — but today you’re acting like tomorrow.”

Synopsis:
An American football player (Randolph Scott) visits his aunt (Helen Westley) at the Parisian design house she manages (known as “Roberta”), and begins to fall for her lovely young assistant (Irene Dunne); meanwhile his bandleader-friend (Astaire) meets up with his childhood sweetheart (Ginger Rogers), a singer posing as a Polish countess.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately advises viewers to “forget the dull, convoluted Dunne-Scott plotline” of this “third Astaire-Rogers musical” — based on a Broadway play by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach, which was itself based on a novel by Alice Duer Miller — and instead “watch [the] supporting players”. He argues that Astaire’s “Huck… is the least abrasive, most likable character he played in his films with Rogers”, and that “Rogers’s fake Polish countess… is refreshingly not deceitful or antagonistic”; he points out that “the two are actually playful and seem to be enjoying each other — even when they are not dancing”. He enumerates some of the film’s dancing/musical highlights, including their duet to “I’ll Be Hard to Handle” (“during which Rogers wears pants for the first time” — not something I would have really paid much attention to!), and their “magical reprise of ‘I Won’t Dance’, to which Astaire did a simply marvelous solo tap earlier”. Unfortunately, while there’s no arguing that the Astaire/Rogers dance scenes are quite enjoyable, the overlong movie spends far too much time with Scott (playing an annoying, incomprehensible character) and Dunne (whose operatic solos seem entirely out of place here).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Astaire and Rogers improv dancing to “I’ll Be Hard to Handle”
  • Astaire’s piano solo and dance to “I Won’t Dance”

  • Astaire and Rogers dancing to “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”
  • Some lovely ’30s gowns (the feathery one below is showcased by none other than young RKO starlet Lucille Ball)

Must See?
No; despite some fun dance numbers, this one is only must-see for Astaire-Rogers completists.

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One Response to “Roberta (1935)”

  1. First viewing. Not a must.

    I’m very much in agreement here. At an hour and 3/4, this movie seems a lot longer. Scott’s role *is* incomprehensible. Dunne’s solos are overkill and some of them are downright dull (esp. the earlier ones). And the dialogue-heavy film itself seems somewhat schizophrenic overall – like the result of too many cooks in the kitchen.

    That said… Westley is fine in a role that’s too small, when she’s such a dear. A lot of the fashion designs are quite fetching (and I don’t usually notice that sort of thing). [It’s interesting how the ‘fashion show sequence’ near the end would be copied later on in a number of well-known musicals. One wonders if it was seen here first…] And Astaire and Rogers shine in their secondary roles. You will probably want them to be the leads. Though Rogers is nifty in the surprisingly direct “I’ll Be Hard to Handle”, the film’s genuine highlight – and what a highlight! – is “I Won’t Dance”. Astaire steals the number masterfully when it’s introduced, then the duo gets to reprise it in flashy style at film’s end.

    I like the fact that the script is rather free of the kind of idiotic dialogue that plagues a number of Astaire/Rogers musicals. And it’s also surprising that there’s a tinge of sadness in this film – unusual for a film of this type.

    ‘Roberta’ is not a terrible film, all told – and ffs would probably find it watchable (esp. for its plus factors). But it’s a patchy affair.

    Note: And I *did* recognize Lucille Ball. ;)

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