Monday, September 5, 2016

Perhaps You Didn't Understand. Ginger Rogers! Come On!

Bear has one word: Rawr!
Swing Time is a delightful 1938 romantic comedy featuring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. [Bear snaps fingers: wake up!] Old b&w movies are entertaining in a way that makes you feel good. You can usually watch them for free. They're innocent and entertaining.

And if you have never seen Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance, you're in for a treat even if you are convinced watching people dance sounds stupid.

The plot to Swing Time... okay, the Bear does not remember the plot. He thinks Fred Astaire was supposed to marry one woman, then has a difficult romance with somebody new: Ginger Rogers. It's an excuse for some brilliant dancing. Rogers' character works at a dance studio (how convenient) and Fred Astaire pretends he doesn't know how to dance. But before long they float over a low railing.  That's the only word for what they do. First one, then the other, holding each other. It's amazing.

It's all in good fun. Probably the most famous scene is in the snow, where Fred and Ginger sing the classic Dorothy Fields number "A Fine Romance." Hard to believe, but she wrote the lyrics with no music. Now, this is not a wistful song at all, as you usually hear it rendered. Ginger Rogers spits the lines out in a sarcastic manner, as it is written. (Gosh, Ginger was adorable. No modern actress can touch her. And Fred was really weird looking: a head made for caricatures.)

The lyrics are really dated, with many references to items of popular culture pre-WWII. They sound silly, but if you pay attention, you know exactly what each is complaining about. It starts out, famously, "A fine ro-mance, with no kisses," then gets to the steamy stuff.

A fine romance, you won't nestle
A fine romance, you won't wrestle
I've never mussed a crease in your blue serge pants
I never had the chance, this is a fine romance.

Yikes! Does the Bear have to draw you a picture? (If the U.S. Total Fertility Rate continues to drop, yes, the Bear will provide illustrated mating instructions to humans right here on this ephemeris. Consider yourself warned!)

"A fine ro-mance" serves as a leitmotif in a certain novel written by a Bear that you're all sick of hearing about he is sure. (It is wistful, though.)

Here it is. Once again, the Bear has to laugh at the loopy lyrics ("your as cold as yesterday's mashed pahtaytahs?"). But it's cute, in a really bitter sort of way.

And do not miss the near kiss before Postmaster Hayes throws a snowball at the couple. Ginger yields, and sort of melts in Fred Astaire's arms, as her head goes back for the kiss like a goose with a broken neck. Whew! Fifteen seconds with more sex appeal than six seasons of Game of Thrones nudity. People think she was just a dancer. A name from movies nobody watches anymore. No. She was an actress who could dance. Watch her sell the dumb lyrics. What a talented beauty from a better time. Well, except for the whole Hitler thing.


For an excellent AV Club introduction to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, look here.


  1. Thanks for the memories Bear. Rogers and Astaire dancing were fabulous along with the songs and the music. The innocence and insouciance of it all!! Simply wonderful. Nothing compares with it today.

  2. British actress Dame Judith Dench and her real-life husband, actor Michael Williams did a BBC tv series with this motif and her singing the song. Truly hilarious. Available on Acorn TV.

  3. I think it would be easier to list the performers who have NOT done this number than the ones who have!

  4. Everything they did was superb, but my favorite song from an Astaire/Rogers movie (I think it's from "Follow the Fleet") is "Let's Face the music and Dance". I love the lyrics, partly because they could be about procrastination (which I am great at). But I also find them poignant:

    Before the fiddlers have fled
    Before they ask us to pay the bill,
    And while we still have the chance
    Let's face the music and dance.

  5. These films are wonderful, and if TCM goes off the air, we're down to sports and the odd PBS thing. Even TCM has become a bit insufferable, but, whatever.
    These men and women were entertainers in the best sense. They could almost all sing, act, dance, and these two were about the best, just magical. My personal favorite dancer is always Donald O'Connor though. His dance for "Make Em Laugh" in Singing in the Rain is one of my favorites. A superb video series is "That's Entertainment". Hours of amazing talent that makes today's crop look like the hacks they are.

  6. Ginger hails from Missouri. We lived in St Louis when my youngest was in 3rd grade and one day a year the kids had to pick a native Missourian to be. My son was Mark Twain and one of his little female friends donned a blonde curly wig and tap danced for the class. She was the cutest little Ginger Rogers. Oh those were simpler and more innocent days!

    Seattle Kim


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