Top Hat (1935)
One of cinema's most iconic couples delivering one of their finest performances, "Top Hat" gives us the reason that musicals can be fun. It's smart, witting, wickedly twisted, brimming with false pretentious, and above all else, painfully aware of itself.
The movie begins as Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) is taken in by his manager Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton). Horace is having some trouble with his valet, Bates (Eric Blore) and he wants Jerry to stay the night to help smooth things over. Jerry is a dancer and singer and is opening a new show that Horace hopes will be a smooth success. In his blithe stupor, awaiting further instructions, Jerry begins to dance in the hotel where he and Horace are staying. His quick feet and smooth moves are fun, but they keep a certain young Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers) awake downstairs. She goes to tell him to be quiet and finds Jerry very charming, if a bit forward.
The next day, Jerry is in a daze over the girl that he met last night and does everything he can to procure more time with her as Horace prepares to head to Italy to meet with his wife.
But there's more complications here: Dale is being courted by the rich fashion designed Alberto Beddini (Erik Rhodes), a man full of talk and not that much action. Beddini hopes to win Dale's heart, but she is made of tougher metal than he is used to.
Jerry has the charm here, and he has it in ten-fold. He and Dale have a rainy dance together in the middle of the park and that pretty much seals the deal. This could easily close out the movie, if it weren't all so complicated...alas.
Dale becomes convinced, through various complications, that Jerry is actually Horace and that he's married. This leads her to slap him in the face for being such a vagrant character.
Now we get to the meat of the story. "Top Hat" consists of increasingly desperate situations that aren't helped by snippets of conversations misheard, misconstrued, or made up. Each scenario leaves us with one of more characters missing from the room, thus leading to more confusion and more volatile relations.
"Top Hat" not only gives us great comedy, but it gives us an effortless performance by Astaire, a worrisome turn by Horton, a beautifully snide cameo from Blore, and some terrific dancing.
It's a movie that really doesn't leave much to the imagination. All its innuendos are so obvious that it makes us wonder how the film ever managed to be a success.
The thinly veiled (or not veiled at all) homoeroticism is one thing; but a quiet modern view on a cheating husband is something else unexpected.
Marriage doesn't hold the same revere that it does in most movies from this time period. It's simply seen as a token of love, maybe something a tinny bit sacred, but not worth all the fuss...gasp!
Ginger Rogers is almost Mae West snide here and Fred Astaire feels right off Broadway with his almost too genuine and loving performance. If there is any fault in the movie it's that it lets the time stretch on too long between moments that the two leads are together.
"Top Hat" is merciless fun, completely and totally unpredictable, filled with the most sane set of situations handled by the most insane of characters.
Posted by Micah Jones