Top Hat (1935)

“No, no. When a clumsy cloud from here meets a fluffy little cloud from there, he billows towards her. She scurries away and he scuds right up to her. She cries a little and there you have you showers. He comforts her. They spark. That’s the lightning. They kiss. Thunder.”

‘Top Hat’, directed by Mark Sandrich in 1935, is an American screwball musical starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Astaire plays Jerry Travers, an American dancer who is appearing in a show in London produced by his friend Horace Hardwick. Whilst there he meets, and falls for, Dale Tremont, played by Rogers. Tremont isn’t convinced and there follows a story of mistaken identity, a halfway shift in location to Venice and a series of perfectly choreographed songs and dances before the pair are united. The power and joy of this film is the chemistry of the two stars and the perfectionism of Astaire. There is a reason why this film is associated with the stars rather than the director. Everything: the cameras, the sets, the props and the costumes are designed to make the most out of the movement of the two dancers. Beyond this, the comedy is razor sharp, and at times subversive. What struck me was how ‘interior’ the film felt, and how this compared with later films, such as those of Jacques Demy, that were influenced by it such as ‘Les Demoiselles de Rochefort’ in 1967. The scenes in Venice, for example, were staged in such a way that they gave off the aura of a Las Vegas recreation of Europe. In a way this adds to the slightly fantastical feel of the film, and also draws attention to the dance sequences. It’s a spectacular film in which the spectacle is the movement of the actors as opposed to their emotional performance or the environment around them. In any other situation, this would create a void in the film, but in the case of Rogers and Astaire, they are able to tie the movie together simply by dancing.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s snappy, sharp and the music and dancing is legendary. Watching in a double bill with either ‘His Girl Friday’ (for the screwball), or ‘Les Demoiselles de Rochefort’ for the homage.

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