Friday, May 22, 2020


Lord Marshmorton's servants enter a gambling pool run by Keggs, the chief butler, to predict whom his daughter Lady Alyce (Joan Fontaine) will marry. They all pick names out of a hat—with Keggs cheating to pick Reggie, a pleasant but unappealing hanger-on whom Alyce's aunt Caroline is pushing on her—but by the time teenage servant Albert gets to pick, the names are gone, so he picks "Mr. X," any currently unknown man who might enter the picture. So who enters the picture? American musical star Jerry Halliday (Fred Astaire). Alyce meets him briefly in London when he lets her share his cab. When Albert hears of the incident, he writes Jerry a letter, signed Lady Alyce, saying she's in love with him and inviting him to swing by the castle sometime. So he does, accompanied by his manager (George Burns playing a character named George Burns) and his scatterbrained secretary (Gracie Allen playing a character named Gracie Allen). Of course, Jerry and Alyce begin to fall in love for real. Because Aunt Caroline continues to push for Reggie, the ornery Lord Marshmorton connives with Jerry to ensure his victory. But complications ensue: for one, Alyce is apparently interested in another American she met in Switzerland. And when George gets a PR piece published implying that Jerry is a playboy and Alyce is just another conquest, Alyce turns Jerry away. But as this is a Hollywood musical comedy, we know the couple will have a happy ending.

This is the first movie Fred Astaire made without Ginger Rogers since hitting the big time with her back in 1933. It's not a bad movie, but, aside from the mistaken identity romance at the center of the plot, it doesn't bear much resemblance to the movies Astaire had been making with Rogers so it was a commercial disappointment. First of all, the splashy art deco trappings of the earlier films are gone; it's still set among the rich and famous, but in an old English mansion. Fontaine is pleasant enough, and she's not a passive insecure ninny as she would be in some of her later movies (REBECCA, SUSPICION), but she's not Ginger Rogers. She and Astaire only share one dance and, though Fontaine is OK, the scene generates none of the romance or humor that a number shared with Rogers would have. What the movie does have is the slightly surreal humor of Gracie Allen and her husband George Burns. In fact, they are the reason for watching. Every time I see Burns and Allen in a movie or a TV clip, I think I won't find them funny anymore, but I always wind up laughing at Gracie's exquisitely daffy timing and George's generous straight-man routine. Not only are they the high point of the film, they even get, with Astaire, the two best dance numbers, a long bit in an amusement park and a shorter one with whisk brooms as props. The wonderful Reginald Gardiner is perfect as the obnoxious Keggs, Montagu Love has a nice light touch as Fontaine's father, and child actor Harry Watson is a fun Albert. At 100 minutes, it's really too long—the last 15 minutes feel like an hour—but even second-rate Astaire is enjoyable. Pictured are Astaire, Allen and Burns. [TCM]

No comments: