Until recently, I had never seen a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rodgers movie, except for excerpts in compilations like "That's Entertainment" or those AFI Top 100 shows. When some of them were released on DVD last week, I figured it was time to fill this hole in my movie knowledge. After checking around to find out which one was best, I put the consensus pick, "Swing Time," on my Netflix queue. When it came a few days ago, I sat down with my wife and daughter to view what we expected to be movie magic.
What a disappointment.
Though the dancing was fine (I was reminded of Rodgers' classic line about having done everything Astaire did, but backwards in high heels), there wasn't nearly enough of it. However, between those numbers, there was a gaping chasm where a plot should be. I know it was only 1936, still early in the history of moviemaking, but that doesn't excuse the incredibly lame "Swing Time" story, nor the lack of any attempt to have the characters act remotely like real people.
To make matters worse, about 40 minutes into the movie, Fred Astaire suddenly launched into a song-and-dance number in blackface! Supposedly meant as a tribute to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, it still came off as demeaning, so that's when I hit the "off" button and ended our misery. My daughter wanted to know why his face was painted black, so I explained the racist history of that tradition and she was appalled. Not only was the experience an eye-opener for all of us, but what a waste of talent and film stock.
If this is the best work they did, give me a compilation of Astaire and Rodgers singing and dancing anytime over this pap.