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Top Hat, Top Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

Updated on August 3, 2012
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Musical Genius

Top Hat, made in 1935, is the best known of the Astaire-Rogers musicals. If you have ever wondered what's so special about the Astaire-Rogers teaming, just watch this movie, then you'll know.

It is a high quality, high spirited musical comedy with style, romance, and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing and singing 11 of Irving Berlin's best songs including the most famous of their duets, "Cheek to Cheek". It was the first movie with a script written specifically for them.

The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as Art Direction (Carroll Clark and Van Nest Polglase), Original Song (Irving Berlin for "Cheek to Cheek"), and Dance Direction (Hermes Pan for "Piccolino" and "Top Hat"). In 1990, Top Hat was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

In 2006 Top Hat was ranked at 15 on the American Film Institute's list of best musicals.

Dancing in Cheek to Cheek
Dancing in Cheek to Cheek

Cheek to Cheek

Basic Story Line

The plot relies on mistaken identity for its twists and turns and comedic moments. Astaire plays American musical star Jerry Travers who has come to London as the star of a show produced by Horace Hardwick (played by Edward Everett Horton). He meets and falls in love with Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers), Horace's downstairs neighbor, who takes offence as she mistakes Jerry, whose name she has never heard, for the married Horace, whom she has never met.

After a successful opening night in London, Jerry follows Dale to Venice, where she is visiting Horace's wife, Madge. Jerry is blissfully unaware that Dale has told Madge that her husband has made illicit advances toward her.As one might expect, romantic complications ensue. 

Jerry proposes to Dale, who is disgusted that her friend's husband could behave in such a manner and agrees instead to marry Alberto Beddini, her Italian dressmaker. Needless to say, in the best tradition of musical comedy, true love finds its own way. Dale is finally convinced of Jerry's true identity while cruising with him in a gondola, and eventually Bates, the English valet of Horace,  reveals that, he had impersonated a clergyman to perform Dale's marriage ceremony. Now legally unmarried again, Dale now accepts Jerry's marriage proposal and, they dance off together, and we are in no doubt that they will be happy ever after.

The fantastic Art Deco Set
The fantastic Art Deco Set

Cast List

Fred Astaire - Jerry Travers

A Hollywood master. He wasn't a particularly handsome star, nor did he have a singing voice comparable to so many of the romantic crooners of his day. But Astaire didn't need those standbys -- he could dance like no one else. Rudolph Nureyev rated him the greatest dancer of the twentieth century, and he is generally acknowledged to have been the most influential dancer in the history of film and television musicals. He was named the fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute. His films with Ginger Rogers transformed the movie musical forever, and in them he proved that he wasn't just a dancer -- he was a talented light comedian too. His stage and subsequent film career spanned a total of seventy-six years, during which he made thirty-one musical films.

Ginger Rogers - Dale Tremont

Born in 1911 in Independence, Missouri, young Ginger won the Texas State Charleston Championship at the age of 14.

She began appearing in vadeville acts and in 1929 she was featured in her first Broadway musical, Top Speed. She was soon making a name for herself in films, particularly Gold Diggers of 1933 where she popularised the now famous, "We're in the Money".

As well as her renowned partnership with Fred Astaire (they made total of 10 films together), she had a successful movie career in her own right, winning a Best Actress Oscar for Kitty Foyle in 1940. 

Edward Everett Horton - Horace Hardwick

One of the great support actors of the American film industry, he started in 1906, singing and dancing on Broadway, and his career continued, very successfully through the silent movies, Hollywood musicals and finally TV series in the 1960's.

Erik Rhodes - Alberto Beddini 

He made his name as a Broadway singer and actor and is best remembered for his very similar scatter-brained roles with Astaire and Rogers in The Gay Divorcee and Top Hat.

Helen Broderick -  Madge Harwick

 Eric Blore - Bates 

Lucille Ball (Yes, that Lucille) as Flower Shop Clerk

Tom Ricketts - Thackeray Club Waiter

Summary

The movie is pure magical escapism. Yes the plot is contrived but, frankly, who cares? Most Astaire musicals are merely lavish excuses for some of the most elegant exquisite dancing ever filmed, and Top Hat is no exception.

It is by far the greatest of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals, and offers a wonderful mix of light comedy and dancing genius performed in a stunning art deco Venetian setting. If this isn't enough, the Irving Berlin score is sensational, featuring the romantic 'Cheek to Cheek', 'Isn't it a lovely day to be caught in the rain', 'The Piccolino' and the title song, 'Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.'

The supporting cast led by by Edward Everett Horton and Erik Rhodes are first class and there's even a cameo appearance by a young Lucille Ball.

If you haven't seen it yet then you're in for a treat. Its a musical, dancing gem.

The Original Trailer

Fred and Ginger on Amazon

Comments

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    • ajwrites57 profile image

      AJ 

      4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      gunsock when I watch those two I am transported! Thanks!

    • Uninvited Writer profile image

      Susan Keeping 

      7 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

      Excellent hub, I love Fred Astaire.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 

      9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Dancing is not one of my great interests, gunsock, but Fred Astaire is an exception. As you say, he was a talented light comedian, too, and was great with Bing Crosby in "Holiday Inn," which recently was colorized.

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