Sog: dal racconto Portrait of John Garnett di Erwin Gelsey. Scen: Howard Lindsay, Allan Scott. F.: David Abel. M: Henry Berman. Scgf.: Van Nest Polglase. Cost: Hermes Pan. Mus.: Jerome Kern. Int: Fred Astaire (John ‘Lucky’ Garnett), Ginger Rogers (Penelope ‘Penny’ Carrol), Victor Moore (Everett ‘Pop’ Cardetti), Helen Broderick (Mabel Anderson), Eric Blore (Gordon), Betty Furness (Margaret Watson), Georges Metaxa (Ricardo ‘Ricky’ Romero), Landers Stevens (giudice Watson), John Harrington (Raymond), Pierre Watkin (Simpson). Prod.: Pandro S. Berman per RKO Radio Pictures. DCP.
George Stevens brings a unique elegance to this sixth pairing of Astaire and Rogers, completed with the use of a complex, large white set and trick photography; the latter showing Astaire – in a tribute to dancer Bill Robinson dancing along with his own towering shadows. Astaire plays a dancer who leaves his hometown and fiancé behind for New York where he falls for Rogers, a dance instructor. He has to pretend he doesn’t know how to dance to join the course and get close to her. There are other setbacks (including Astaire’s looming engagement), misunderstandings and pretences that need to be dispensed with. Each number brings the lovers/dancers closer and then pulls them apart – a delightful mélange of discretion and abandon. Stevens worked on the script of the film along with a handful of mostly uncredited writers. It is a total ensemble work, in which the director, actors, dance director (Hermes Pan), set designer (Van Nest Polglase) and the song composers (Jerome Kern & Dorothy Fields) all contribute to the story. Dance numbers move the plot forward, a finesse that previous Astaire/Rogers vehicles could hardly afford. If music-wise there’s actually not all that much ‘swing’ to be found (except the swing, swirl and sway of the bodies), as a result of Kern’s conservatism, most other components, including the dance numbers and the sets, are dizzyingly modern. A dust-free art deco world escapes the grim realities of the Depression, as seen in the renovated dance hall, Silver Sandal (designed by John Harkrider), with its under-the-round dual-staircase orchestra pit, white NY bird’s-eye-view painted floor, sliding panels and gleaming surfaces. The astounding juxtaposition of curved structures and straight lines shows two worlds sitting side by side; the epitome of opulence is at the same time braced for the logic of the fantasy. It wouldn’t be too far off to call Stevens’s last film, The Only Game in Town (1970), about a pianist-gambler falling for a dancer, a non-musical remake of Swing Time.