Thursday, August 03, 2017


At a New England university, Fred Astaire and Burgess Meredith are the oldest students enrolled—they keep deliberately flunking so they can stay on as rival trumpet players in the college band, the University Perennials. The lovely Paulette Goddard shows up at a performance and flirts a bit with Astaire, but it turns out she's serving him with a notice from a collection agency. The two guys get her fired, but then ask her to be their manager. She gets them gigs, and is so successful that famed bandleader Artie Shaw (playing himself) is a little worried; when he comes to a show, the guys think he's there to consider them for his band, but actually he's there to offer Goddard a job as manager, which she takes. As Astaire and Meredith continue competing for Goddard's favors, and for spots in Shaw's band, Goddard gets an eccentric rich man (Charles Butterworth) who shows up at all of Shaw's shows to sponsor a big Broadway concert, with the only question being, which of our two scamps will shine at the show and ultimately win Goddard's heart?

In his second starring role after he and Ginger Rogers called it a day, Astaire seems notably to be floundering. This independent film, distributed by Paramount, looks shabby compared to his RKO films. The plot and casting are strange: Astaire, 40 and pretty much looking it—though to be fair, he looked 40 when he was in his 30s—is not a good fit for his eternal college student role, and knockabout comedy isn't really Meredith’s forte. Goddard is fine, and dances well with Astaire, but oddly there are very few dance numbers compared to an average Astaire film. The two main ones, however, are worth seeing. Astaire and Goddard dance to a cute slangy song called "I Ain't Hep to That Step but I'll Dig It" and the film closes with "Dear Mr. Chisholm," in which Astaire serves as a dancing band conductor. Butterworth does his usual befuddled bit, and Artie Shaw shows he's not much of an actor, but he does provide a bit of a no-nonsense hard edge in his scenes. Because the film is in the public domain, there are lots of copies available, none in great shape. The one I saw on Turner Classic was OK but a bit murky at times. Pictured above are Astaire, Meredith and Shaw. [TCM]

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