“In dealing with a girl or horse, one just lets nature take its course.”
Confirmed bachelor Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) — in London to perform a show, and staying with his wealthy friend Horace (Edward Everett Horton) — finds himself falling head-over-heels in love with a beautiful young model (Ginger Rogers) living in the room below his. Complications ensue when Rogers mistakenly believes Astaire is Horace, the husband of her best friend Madge (Helen Broderick).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Fred Astaire Films
- Ginger Rogers Films
- Mistaken or Hidden Identities
- Romantic Comedy
Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “exceptional Fred Astaire – Ginger Rogers Depression-escaping musical” features “fabulous dancing, a topflight Irving Berlin score, terrific supporting players… [and] spectacularly stylish Art Deco sets”. It’s widely acknowledged as one of the best of Astaire and Rogers’ collaborations together, and it certainly possesses some of the best-loved songs — most notably “Cheek to Cheek” (that feather dress!) and “Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails”. The “typically preposterous plot” is silly beyond belief but enormous fun once you give in to the cleverly plotted script, which allows the mistaken-identity snafu to go on far longer than would ever be expected. There’s no denying the magic of Astaire and Rogers dancing together (and Astaire dancing alone) — but I’ll admit my favorite aspect of Top Hat is the truly hilarious banter between the supporting character actors — most notably Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore; their initial domestic quibble over “square versus butterfly ties” is priceless. Watch and enjoy…
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Fred Astaire as Jerry Travers
- Ginger Rogers as Dale Tremont
- Astaire’s opening dance number (set to “No Strings”) in Horton’s apartment
- Rogers and Astaire dancing “Cheek to Cheek”
- Astaire wooing Rogers during the “Isn’t It a Lovely Day to Be Caught in the Rain” number
- Astaire’s stylish “Top Hat and Tails” dance
- Edward Everett Horton as Horace
- Eric Blore as Horton’s snobby valet
- Helen Broderick as Horton’s “understanding” wife, Madge
- Erik Rhodes as Beddini, the passionate Italian dress designer: “Never again will I allow women to wear my dresses!”
- Rogers’ gorgeous gowns
- The marvelously baroque — and oh-so-RKO — art deco set designs
- Hermes Pan and Astaire’s collaborative choreography
- The wonderfully unrealistic “mistaken identities” screenplay
- Irving Berlin’s classic score
Yes. This undisputed classic — widely acknowledged as the archetypal Astaire and Rogers collaboration — should be seen and enjoyed by all film fanatics. Discussed at length in Peary’s Cult Movies (1981).
- Genuine Classic
- Oscar Winner or Nominee
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
One thought on “Top Hat (1935)”
Too iconic – and fun enough – to not be a must but, seeing it again, I do feel it’s a tad over-praised. Oddly in this, I find the supporting cast a lot more fun than Fred and Ginger; not that they don’t do their best, I just think they don’t actually have the better roles (or needed more juicy things to say).
As a result (luckily, for a film of this sort), we have enjoyable comedic fun between the dance numbers A&R are famous for (with Astaire noticeably handling the bulk of the vocals).
As for the numbers:
Fred’s ‘Fancy Free’ is everything the title implies and he’s a marvel.
‘Isn’t It a Lovely Day (To Be Caught in the Rain)?’ is a terrific character tune and another highlight.
‘Top Hat, White Tie and Tails’ has an element I find rather disturbing: at one point, Fred ‘shoots down’ all the men he’s been dancing with. What means this? That Fred is ‘dressed to kill’? That Fred’s co-choreographer (Hermes Pan) struck out with the chorus boys and wants his sentiment known?
‘Cheek to Cheek’ – this number alone makes the film worth seeing. (Yes, Ginger is wearing the perfect dress.) Woody Allen used this sequence to great effect at the end of ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’. ‘Heaven’, indeed!
‘The Piccolino’, unfortunately, is something of a disappointment, esp. as the film’s final number. Even though it’s performed with great style (in part, something of a faux Busby Berkeley), it seems more of a mid-plot number out of another story.
I have to make special mention of Helen Broderick (Broderick Crawford’s mother!), who could easily have had more of a film career than she did. She had wonderful timing and presence, i.e. in this exchange:
Rogers: Madge, have you any objections if I scare your husband so that he’ll never look at another woman?
Broderick: Dale, no husband is ever too scared to look.
More than enough here to keep gay audiences in stitches, but two moments stand out for me:
Broderick (again), when Erik Rhodes kisses Horton, European-style: Go right ahead, boys, don’t mind me.
When asked by the hotel manager to give up their ‘bridal suite’ –
Horton: Give it up? Oh, well, we, um–
Astaire (to Horton): Well, we’ve hardly settled in it yet – have we, angel?