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Monday, November 26, 2012

FOLLOW THE FLEET (1936)

While arguing for the supremacy of TOP HAT/’35 vs SWING TIME/’36, Astaire & Rogers fans sometimes miss the pleasures of the film that came between. Not without some cause. Even by the slapdash narrative standards of the series, the story, gags & characterizations in this one barely make a ripple. Fred & Ginger are their usual delightful selves, this time in Working Class mode as ex-partners who almost got hitched. Now, he’s in the Navy & she’s working as a taxi-dancer when the fleet comes to town. Since they’re already a couple, they spend a lot of screen time getting the painfully uninteresting secondary couple together, Officer-in-Training Randolph Scott & Ginger’s Plain-Jane sister Harriet Hilliard (of OZZIE & HARRIET fame). But with an Irving Berlin score & dances that equal anything in the series, the earthbound script hardly matters. Especially so when Fred & Ginger decide to help their pals by putting on a show. A rehearsal scene, showing them hashing their way thru ‘I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket’ is a rare comedy dance that really raises laughs. (Also, right before the number, Fred limbers up at the piano, playing ‘live’ with a jivey spin Berlin must have marveled at.) Then, to a stunning Berlin lyric & melody for ‘Let’s Face the Music and Dance,’ they step away from their own light romantic characters to reveal an emotional charge they never tapped elsewhere. As supremacy arguments go, this beautiful dance may be their ultimate masterpiece. And watch for brief bits from Betty Grable and a blond Lucille Ball who works up a couple of neat comic bits. (Don’t skip the Extras for some swell Big Band Jazz from Jimmie Lunceford & Co. These guys really swing!)

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