VOD film review: Top Hat (1935)
Fred and Ginger8
Ivan Radford | On 15, Jun 2021
“You two run along and dance and don’t give me another thought.” That’s Madge (Helen Broderick) to Jerry (Fred Astaire) and Dale (Ginger Rogers), a couple that we’re never in any doubt will end up together. The 1935 classic, though, does everything it can to pretend otherwise – and rather than frustrate with its ludicrous plotting, it’s fun just to watch it trying to pirouette around us.
The inimitable Astaire plays Jerry, a famous Broadway dancer who has come to London to star in the show produced by his friend, Horace (Edward Everett Horton). Moving through a fancy London club, he can’t help but tap-dance as he goes, and that energetic enthusiasm runs through the following 90 minutes. His uncontainable dancing disturbs Dale (Rogers), sleeping in the room below them, and Jerry falls for her at first sight.
Things, though, aren’t that simple, as a mix-up at the hotel leads Dale to think that Jerry is actually Horace – who is already married to her friend, Madge. What ensues is a love quadrilateral of sorts, with Horace unaware of the mistaken identity and trying to help Jerry keep his dalliance with Dale discreet, while Madge is happy at the thought of the womanising Horace being unfaithful once again, as it means she’ll get apologetic gifts as compensation.
Needless to say, all of this would collapse under the slightest scrutiny – how these people have never met and know nothing about their friends’ spouses is never explained – but it’s a diverting excuse for some screwball silliness, not least because it introduces us to Horace’s valet, Bates (the hilarious Eric Blore), who is asked by Horace to keep an eye on the couple.
And, of course, the longer the confusion goes on for, the more excuse we have for some of the best song and dance numbers going on the big screen. Composer Irving Berlin’s songs are sublime, with Cheek to Cheek a particular standout, and the choreography by Astaire and Hermes Pan is flawless. Director Mark Sandrich lets it flow over long takes, with the camera positioned far out enough for us to admire the footwork on display. Most admirable of all is a remarkable sequence that sees Jerry gradually win over Dale, with her reluctant to join in with his dancing before ultimately becoming a perfectly in sync partner. That paved the way for an extravagant climax supposedly in Venice. The sets, of course, look nothing like Italy – but as long Fred and Ginger are dancing, you don’t give it another thought.
Top Hat is available on BBC iPlayer until July 2022