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Friday, May 30, 2008

ROBERTA (1935)

M-G-M’s unfortunate remake of this property (LOVELY TO LOOK AT/'52) once made this title, the third of the Astaire/Rogers pics, a very rare item. Fred & Ginger's old studio, RKO, must have sold off some of the underlying rights along with the best original prints and negative materials so that public domain prints made hash of the film's visual qualities. (No longer a problem.) But as Arlene Croce points out in her classic Fred & Ginger monograph, this underrated film is the key work in their partnership. You can actually see them become a real team in the one-take spontaneity of the dance right after Rogers’ Polish inflected vocal on I’LL BE HARD TO HANDLE. It’s an unmissable thrill. (The nutty accent is in there only because Lyda Roberti, who originated the part on B'way, had a strong Polish accent. And, if it ain't broke . . . ) Note that most of the Fred & Ginger numbers are shot with live sound, including Fred’s super piano solo. Irene Dunne is the real star of the film and has to carry the plot, such as it is, with Randolph Scott, such as he is. But she handles the big sentimental Jerome Kern numbers wonderfully with her firm/rich soprano.*

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY:  *Dunne didn’t have Renata Tebaldi’s facial structure for nothing! Right down to the famous iron dimples.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: That'd be THE FRED ASTAIRE AND GINGER ROGERS BOOK by Arlene Croce, referenced above.  Undoubtedly, the only great book of cultural criticism with 'flip animation' on the page edges.

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