Review: Top Hat (1935)

If you have spent any time here at all, you probably know that I am an avid fan of Gene Kelly. He’s my go-to guy for singin’ and dancin’ (whether in the rain or not). As such, I have to admit that I am so far woefully ignorant of that other movie musical great, Fred Astaire. While I don’t think he will ever replace Mr. Kelly in my affections, I am more than happy to educate myself in terms of Astaire’s movies as well. Of the films I’ve seen so far, none have co-starred the fabulous Ginger Rogers. So, last weekend we watched Top Hat, which is the fourth of ten movies featuring the Astaire/Rogers pairing. It was definitely a treat.

Top Hat is the story of song-and-dance man Jerry Travers (Astaire) who is footloose and fancy-free, in London to do a show for producer Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton). He’s dancing late at night in Horace’s hotel room when he disturbs Dale Tremont (Rogers) in the room below. She comes up to complain, and the two are immediately enamored of each other. What follows is some flirtation and some dancing, until Dale comes to the false realization that she has been flirting with Horace, who she has never met but who just happens to be married to her friend Madge (Helen Broderick). To make matters even more entertaining, Dale is on her way to meet Madge and Horace in Italy, where Madge hopes to set her up with … Jerry. This comedy of errors proceeds to its predictable conclusion with plenty of laughs and plenty of dancing.

This is a funny, quirky little movie. I thought the plot was a little bit of a mess, but I was impressed with how long they managed to keep the case of mistaken identities going, even when more than just two of the characters are on screen together. The miscommunication between Dale and Madge regarding the identity of Dale’s would-be suitor was especially hilarious, and surprisingly scandalous, particularly (I would assume) for 1935. Horton and Broderick are consistently entertaining, and supporting turns by Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore as a hot-headed Italian designer and Horace’s Jeevesian valet, Bates, add to the hilarity.

As for the leads, I don’t want to ruffle any feathers, but I think in terms of acting, Rogers might be superior to Astaire. In everything I’ve seen of him he stays genial and unflappable throughout, whereas Rogers gets a little bit more range in terms of her perspective. That said, the reason we watch Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movies is to see them dancing, and Top Hat definitely does not disappoint; they actually dance together a record five times. Their “Cheek to Cheek” routine is the standout, although the company finale is also one to watch. Featuring gorgeous costumes, fabulous choreography (of course), and songs by Irving Berlin, I think Top Hat is definitely a movie to watch if you’re interested in seeing some classic Astaire/Rogers.

9 responses to “Review: Top Hat (1935)

  1. I’m ashamed to say I’ve only seen one Astaire film and it wasn’t a musical. It’s On the Beach w/ Gregory Peck (natch!) which marked Astaire’s first dramatic performance. He was incredible, but now I should see him doing what he does best.

  2. Small world – I just reviewed this film myself. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend Swing Time (1936). I actually prefer it to Top Hat.

  3. Great blog and wonderful films you are reviewing there! This one is actually something I would love to see at the cinema nowadays because Astaire movies are wonderful on the big screen.

  4. The plotting of Top Hat is its only major downfall. Personally, I can’t stand up a “zany misunderstanding” premises, especially one based on so much verbal beating around the bush and insane coincidences. I’m more of a Gene Kelly guy too, but Fred & Ginger have a special kind of magic together on the dancefloor. Bonus points for the great Edward Everett Horton.

    I second Chip’s recommendation for Swing Time, and also really enjoyed the Astaire/Rogers reunion flick, The Barkleys of Broadway.

  5. Thanks for reading, all! Swing Time is definitely already on the Netflix queue … something to look forward to. 🙂

  6. Pingback: Classic Chops: April 11th | | Beth Stollman BlogBeth Stollman Blog

  7. I’d also recommend Swing Time. It’s my favorite Astaire/Rogers film. I like Fred Astaire a lot, and have seen most of his musicals, but he doesn’t come close to Gene Kelly in my affections and never will!

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