Top Hat is currently streaming on the BBC iPlayer and will be online for the next year, along with a slate of other Fred’n’Ginger movies and more RKO classics.
If you have never seen a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical before, Top Hat is a great place to start. I would say that if you only see one Fred‘n’Ginger musical you should make it this one, but the thought of only seeing one Fred‘n’Ginger musical is too awful to contemplate.
Top Hat was made in 1935, and it is the fourth film that Astaire and Rogers made together, but the first one that was written especially for them, and it is popularly known as their lightest, brightest film. It became the second biggest box-office hit of the year, RKO’s greatest hit of the decade, and Astaire’s second most profitable film of all time, just behind Easter Parade from 1948.
Top Hat makes the most of the particular opposites-attract chemistry between Rogers and Astaire. Katharine Hepburn famously said of the duo that “he gives her class and she gives him sex appeal”. Well plenty of people have disagreed with Hepburn (though none to her face I’ll bet) and you might even say the positions were reversed here, with Rogers playing a rather pompous socialite, and Astaire the amorous dancer who recklessly pursues her. But this film is all about class and sex. It “simply reeks” with both of them. It’s set in prim and proper London, for the most part, and in this scenario, the class-bound etiquette of the stuffy upper-classes is perpetually undermined by the wandering desires of husbands, lovers, and Americans, as well as a stream of sexual innuendo – both straight and queer. In the same way that Fred’s noisy tap shoes constantly disturb the peace.
Continue reading Top Hat (1935): Fred and Ginger disturb the peace
The release of Stan & Ollie has got a lot of people thinking about comedy. And in the Guardian opinion pages, one of my favourite film writers posed a very interesting question. So why hasn’t there ever been a female version of Laurel and Hardy?
Don’t ever make the mistake of assuming the writer wrote the headline. What Gilbey meant, I think, was why hasn’t there ever been a female comedy duo quite as successful as Laurel and Hardy? You could also ask, why hasn’t there ever been a male comedy duo quite as successful as Laurel and Hardy? But that’s not what Gilbey is getting at, writing very perceptively:
Never underestimate the ingrained sexism of male impresarios, who must have decreed that audiences simply don’t respond to female double acts, explaining away the ones that work as exceptions to the rule. But perhaps there is some deeper reason why the sight of two women performing harmoniously together as heightened versions of themselves has never properly clicked, or never been allowed to … Male friendship and rivalry is routinely the stuff of comedy. Does the notion of women getting along – or not – make us so uncomfortable that we can’t even bear to laugh at it?
Perhaps there is something in this. A deep-seated distrust of the idea that women can be funny, which doubles when there are two or more women on screen together? It’s very difficult to measure such a response, though. I’m more interested in where Gilbey went looking for his examples. He starts out in the 70s, and moves forward … citing French & Saunders as a prime example (but character comedy doesn’t count, apparently). Gilbey’s point is that female duos have a tougher time getting recommissioned – we, or the powers-that-be, don’t allow them to thrive. He may well be right there. Continue reading Looking for a female version of Laurel and Hardy?