Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mark Sandrich | Top Hat


Allan Scott and Dwight Taylor (screenplay, based on a play by Sándor Faragó, Alada Laszlo, and Károly Nóti), Irving Berlin and Max Steiner (music), Mark Sandrich (director) Top Hat / 1935

With great song and dance numbers such as "Isn't This a Lovely Day," "Fancy Free," "The Piccolino" and "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails," it seems almost impossible to select just one dance! But of all Astaire's and Rogers' performances throughout their years as a duo, the most memorable of all may be their brilliant "Cheek to Cheek."

In terms of the plot, the number might never have happened. Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers) is furious with Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire), whom she believes to be her good friend Madge Hardwick's husband, Horace. Travers has flirted with Tremont, but Madge seemingly doesn't care, for, in reality, she is trying to marry off Travers, suggesting Tremont as the perfect match. It is with due hesitation, accordingly, that Tremont accepts his offer to dance. As he begins the love song, moreover, she turns several times to Madge, pondering what to do, but Madge merely motions that they should get closer together.

The dance begins as a simple waltz, with Travers (Astaire) stopping several times to sing the famous lyrics ("Heaven, I'm in Heaven / And my heart beats so loudly I can hardly speak / And I seem to find the happiness I seek / When we're out together dancing cheek to cheek"). After each stop they dance for a while, until suddenly, at the music's crescendo, they swing upstairs, she spinning before laterally jumping, Astaire moving into a soft tap. Both leap, moving backwards, then forward, until in a final pas de deau, Rogers being gently lifted before Astaire lets her down, the two spin, returning to the quiet waltz.

Perhaps the most notable thing about this dance is Roger's beautiful white feathered dress (at least it appears white on the screen; the lining, so I have read, in reality was blue) that is so absolutely breathtaking a costume that we might forgive them, he in his tuxedo and she in the gown, if they merely stood there talking. Yet their graceful dancing on top, equally transports us into "Heaven."

Astaire and the director had tried to dissuade Rogers from wearing the dress, and as she began to dance, just as they feared, the feathers flew off every time she made a move. Astaire described it as something akin to "a chicken being attacked by a coyote." You can still see some few feathers floating through the air at scene's end. And after this event, Rogers' nickname became "feathers."

Los Angeles, April 16, 2011

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