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And just what is a beguine? August 30, 2007

Posted by Jeff in 1929 through WWII, Dance, Fred Astaire, Movies, Musicals.

Broadway Melody of 1940 DVD cover

Happy birthday, Joe!

This was the last of four MGM musicals with Broadway Melody in the title, following the 1930 Oscar winner for Best Picture, today best known for the title song featured in the Singin’ In The Rain dance sequence. Unlike most such series, the last is far and away the best.

It was Fred Astaire‘s first movie at MGM, and his first following The Story Of Vernon and Irene Castle which was supposed to have been the last Astaire/Rogers collaboration (they reunited after Judy Garland dropped out of The Barkleys of Broadway in 1949). Hard as it is to believe, there were those who thought Fred would have trouble with his career after Ginger left to pursue a career as a “serious” actress. The same things had been said about him seven years earlier when Adele Astaire, his sister and first partner, retired and ended their Broadway career, about the same time as his infamous Hollywood screen test write-up:

Can’t sing. Can’t act. Slightly balding. Dances a little.

It’s a miracle that Fred Astaire made so many good movies, considering Hollywood spent forty years underestimating him.

This was Astaire’s only movie with Eleanor Powell, who had been starring in movies since the mid-thirties (including two previous Broadway Melody titles). She had never co-starred with another dancer, or even danced more than one sequence with the same partner. She made a couple more films after this before she married Glenn Ford in 1943 and pretty much retired.

So this is our only opportunity to judge the collaboration of two of Hollywood’s best dancers, and two of its most charismatic of stars. Watch the looks they give each other, especially when it seems Fred is trying to one-up her with the tapping … notice the mirrors at the back of the set reflecting their images, and just imagine how hard it must have been to keep the camera out of the shot … bask in the glow of Eleanor’s smile and check out how that dress flows over her lower body …

Whenever he was cornered by reporters and asked to name his favorite dancing partner, Fred would diplomatically defer to the clothes-horse from Royal Wedding. With due respect to Adele, Ginger, Cyd Charisse and the coatrack, Eleanor Powell was the best partner Fred Astaire ever had.

She “put ’em down like a man”, no ricky-ticky-sissy stuff with Ellie. She really knocked out a tap dance in a class by herself.

— Fred Astaire on Eleanor Powell, from his autobiography Steps In Time

Fred Astaire and his sister appear in my original screenplay, Equity.

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1. Pat - August 4, 2006

I have heard that Fred was such a perfectionist that his female partners suffered from blisters, sore feet and pure exhaustion
while rehearsing. Have you heard this?

2. Jeff Massie - August 4, 2006

I know that by the end of the sixteen-hour day in which Never Gonna Dance was shot, Ginger’s feet were bleeding … but what would you exepct at the end of sixteen hours?

More about that in this post. And thank you for your comments!

3. leslie r - February 3, 2007

Absolutely beautiful. Tap dancing is so remarkable to watch but those two make it look like a walk in the park.

4. joe - August 30, 2007

jeff… thanks very much for the birthday wish! and since i am now the oldest living xhoofer on magnolia blvd 91423, i can say with some authority that, after having watched fred and eleanor dance this particular number over and over and over for… say 40 years… that it is without doubt the best, most intricate, most satisfying tap routine ever put on film. and… the older i get… the better it gets.

5. Jeff - August 30, 2007

But, Joe, I thought you liked us best?

— Harold and Fayard 😉

6. Jeff - August 31, 2007

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