Swing Time (1936)

2008 #100
George Stevens | 99 mins | TV | U

Swing TimeSwing Time is, I’m told, widely hailed as the greatest of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers pictures. The plot isn’t especially captivating, one of the stock variations on “boy meets girl” that still serve romcoms to this day, but that’s not the main reason these films are so loved.

That, of course, is the song and (especially) dance numbers. I can’t say I recall any of the songs now, but the dances are suitably impressive. Particularly memorable is an early number where, after Astaire accidentally gets Rogers’ dance teacher character fired, he shows the proprietor how much she’s taught him in the last ten minutes, winning her job back. Trust me, that makes far more sense on screen than in that pathetic explanation. Elsewhere, Astaire blacks up for a dance to Bojangles of Harlem. These days one might wonder why he had to black up, or consider the concept faintly racist, but clearly it was acceptable for the time and in no way detracts from the skill on display.

One interesting note is some story similarities to Sideways — yes, Sideways, the recent Oscar-winning indie comedy about love and wine tasting. Whether Swing Time had any influence on that (made almost 70 years later), or it’s just a huge coincidence, I don’t know, but there are several reminiscent moments throughout the engaged-man-and-buddy-find-love-in-far-off-location-(then-accidentally-let-truth-slip) plot.

I haven’t seen enough Astaire/Rogers films to declare whether this is their best or not, though personally I preferred Top Hat. In the same way the plot of some action films doesn’t matter one iota so long as the fights are good, so the story here is irrelevant beside the quality of the dancing — and that, at least, is exemplary.

4 out of 5

(Originally posted on 9th January 2009.)

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