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Sunday, July 14, 2013

A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS (1937)

After seven hits together, Fred Astaire took a break from partnering Ginger Rogers in this frustrating, commercially unsuccessful musical. The film boasts some classic (and a few so-so) George & Ira Gershwin numbers, but helmer George Stevens stumbles over a tiresome P. G. Wodehouse plot well-larded with eccentric Brits and the usual musical-comedy misunderstandings. (There’s a Cockney servant lad you’ll want to strangle, but also a touch of divine Wodehousian lunacy in Reginald Gardiner’s Opera-Maniacal house butler. IMDb lists one ‘Mario Berini’ dubbing Reggie’s aria from Flotow’s MARTHA, but surely that’s Allan Jones warbling away.) The film’s main claim to fame comes from having comedians George Burns & Gracie Allen, along with ingenue Joan Fontaine, doing triple-duty for the missing Ms Rogers and coming up short. True enough, but Fontaine’s brief la dance sur l’herbe with Astaire isn’t nearly as bad as they say (she’s certainly charming & pretty); while Burns & Allen and Astaire make for a real toe-tapping treat. (Less so in the hyped Oscar®-winning ‘Fun House’ sequence then in the peppy hoofing routine that proceeds it, with whisk brooms in ‘Put Me To The Test.’ But the best thing in the pic may just be Joseph August’s magical lensing for Fred on Gershwin’s extra memorable ‘A Foggy Day.’

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: In their last stage show, THE BAND WAGON (a 1931 B’way revue that has little in common with the great Vincente Minnelli pic of ‘53), Fred & his sister Adele regularly brought down the house on ‘Hoops,’ a number that had them trotting ‘round & ‘round a turntable before making a quick, exhilarating exit. And you can find it recreated here! Revived for Fred & Gracie in the Fun House sequence with a trick comic ending for Gracie.

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