Sunday, March 4, 2007


In Shall We Dance, Fred Astaire plays a ballet dancer who wants to be a tap dancer. He falls in love with a picture of a broadway performer played by Ginger Rogers and decides to meet her. He follows her from Paris to New York on an ocean liner. His publicist starts a rumor that the two are secretly married which causes a sensation as they arrive in New York. After a series of unlikely but not unexpected events, the two naturally end up together in the end.


Fred and Ginger musical comedies were nothing new in 1937. This was a follow up to a string of hits that included Top Hat in 1935 and Swing Time in 1936. These movies never pretended to be anything more than escapist entertainment where Depression era audiences could forget their troubles for a couple of hours.

Shall We Dance was an attempt to class up the Astaire/Rogers musical. They replaced the popular Irving Berlin songs with the more classical George and Ira Gershwin compositions, and brought a ballet influence to the dance. But it still seemed stale. Maybe they had they had exhausted the formula by this film, or perhaps the recovering economy left less of a market for the escapist entertainment.


Like any other Astaire/Rogers musical, the stories are hackneyed situation comedies that today's audiences have seen enough of on television. So the best way to watch them now is to fast forward to the song-and-dance numbers.

This movie has a few highlights in this regard: In "Slap That Bass", Fred dances on a stylized set version of an ocean liner's engine room to the rhythms of the machines; In "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off", Fred and Ginger dance on roller skates in a Central Park set; and "They Can't Take That Away From Me" is great classic Gershwin song.

Unfortunately, the movie also has more than its share of misses, particularly the final "Shall We Dance" number where Fred hardly dances with Ginger at all, but initially with a disturbingly flexible Harriet Hoctor, then with a chorus line of women wearing creepy Ginger Rogers masks.

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