Tuesday, November 27, 2001


It wouldn't have seemed like a real holiday if I hadn't watched an Astaire/Rogers movie. The very first one I ever saw was TOP HAT, and I saw it after coming home at 2 in the morning from a New Year's Eve party many years ago. I was instantly and thoroughly charmed. Even since then, I've always tried to watch one of their movies on major holidays. This was the last in the series they made at RKO. They would make one more together 10 years later, THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY, which, like CASTLE, was a show-biz bio. The differences were that CASTLE was based on a true story and BARKLEYS was not, and CASTLE was very good but BARKLEYS was not--it felt forced and leaden. In fact, I think not liking BARKELYS was why I had avoided watching CASTLE for so long.

Certainly the dance numbers in CASTLE aren't nearly as fun and imaginative as those in the rest of the RKO movies, but Astaire and Rogers get a chance to truly *act*, playing fully realized characters instead of cardboard figures existing simply to have dance numbers built around them. Don't get me wrong--I love TOP HAT and GAY DIVORCEE and FOLLOW THE FLEET and most of the rest of their whimiscal, art-deco romance musicals, but this one feels more mature and more involving. The Castles were a dancing team from the WWI era (Irene, still alive in '39, served as an advisor on the film). The movie follows their career and relationship over the years. Instead of the usual second banana, Edward Everett Horton, we have Edna May Oliver, who also has a good character to work with, and plays against type as a rich and sophisticated woman-about-town who becomes the Castles' manager and close friend. I love Oliver and this may be my favorite among the performances of hers that I've seen. All in all, highly recommended.

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