The Continental Hop
We had Marvelous Mary round for dinner, and we were all set to watch GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933, which is one of Fiona’s top ten films but which Mary had never seen. But then the butternut squash took a long time to cook, and I put the Busby Berkeley extracts disc on to pass the time, and by the time dinner was ready we were all Busbied out. His version of b&w is particularly intense — obsidian dance floors that wait like inky pools to swallow the milky flesh of luminous chorines, the whole studio-enclosed universe a fractal yin-yang. (Of course, when Busby got his hands on Technicolor ooh boy!)
So we jumped sideways from Warners to RKO and watched THE GAY DIVORCEE instead.
Of course, the film is structured entirely as a vehicle for Fred & Ginger as they disport themselves before the same rear-projection screen that held King Kong (Night and Day!), but it has a good farce plot — Ginger’s marriage to a geologist is on the rocks; she engages a professional co-respondent to produce grounds for divorce; but Fred has already fallen in love with her and an unlikely coincidence (“Chance is the fool’s name for fate”) causes him to be mistaken for the paid philanderer…
On top of this, the supporting cast, starting with Edward Everett Horton and Alice Brady, and then escalating to Eric Blore and Erik Rhodes, bring a huge amount of subsidiary entertainment. The Erics are fascinating. Blore varied his schtick very little over his career, but he didn’t need to. He was perfection. And Rhodes’ performance as Tonetti the professional co-respondent raises the fatuous to the sublime. (Always note at this point that his performance got the film banned in Mussolini’s Italy.)
“I wonder if he’s wearing co-respondent shoes,” said Mary. It turns out that these are brogues in two colours. But we didn’t get a clear shot of his feet. After all, he’s not Fred.
And then the Continental started, and never seemed to end. I’m sure this number isn’t the actual longest musical interlude in screen history, but it seems to set out to create the impression that it is. Mary and Fiona kept asking me if it was nearly over. “Not until they get to the Russian montage part,” I said.
“Are they going to chuck a baby down those steps?” asked Mary.
The Continental continued. It may be that it is continuing still, that, like Philip K Dick’s Roman Empire, it never ended.
“It was a different age, I suppose,” mused Mary.
“It was by the time they’d finished doing the Continental,” I said.
But somehow the story resumed, and was wrapped up in a clever way, and then Fred and Ginger danced off to a reprise of — the Continental.
“SHE’S wearing co-respondent shoes!” declared Mary. And she was.