Archive for Fred Astaire

Wingwalking

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on January 22, 2020 by dcairns

I’m reading Most Secret War by RV Jones, a wartime memoir about British Scientific Intelligence. It’s quite brilliant and contains also several anecdotes of dubious relevance but high entertainment value. I’ll be quoting at least a couple.

Jones tells the story of a couple of Danes who, unhappy with the Nazi occupation, decided to escape the little island they lived on. One of them happened to have an old WWI two-seater plane in his barn… in pieces. They constructed the flying machine, using bits of wire and scrap to substitute any missing parts. Since there were Germans in the immediate vicinity, they were going to have to open the barn doors, start the engines, and hope the thing flew.

They saved petrol for ages. One problem was that the fuel tank would not hold enough fuel to get them to Britain. So, they packed cans of fuel and, having miraculously taken off, they had to refuel in midair over the sea, which required one of them to crawl onto the wing with a hosepipe between his teeth while the other simultaneously piloted the craft and funnelled petroleum down the tube.

They got to Britain alright and were immediately arrested as spies, as their story was not credible. The undeveloped film they’d taken of German radar emplacements was given to a lab who managed to destroy all but a couple of frames (which did prove useful).

They were eventually believed and released. After the war, they went back to Denmark and were extremely unpopular, as they’d rather shown everyone up.

Anyway, by coincidence, we watched FLYING DOWN TO RIO this week. It’s not a great film (not enough Eric Blore), but the really good thing about it is that Fred & Ginger are by so many miles the coolest people in it. Ginger is a lot less ladylike than she would be later — she grasps that fuselage between her thighs like it really belongs there. Fred isn’t as gentlemanly as he would be later either. What’s great is that most of their stuff involves them expressing contempt for the film’s main plot, the Gene Raymond/Dolores Del Rio romance, and since we share their opinion of it, we’re very much thrown in with them.

It’s also neat that the movie ends with them looking up at the leads departing by flying boat (or would you call it a seaplane?). Yeah, those guys are leaving, but Fred and Ginger will stick around for a while.

The Many Dogs of Ann Miller

Posted in Comics, Dance, Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on August 18, 2018 by dcairns

One of the purposes of EASTER PARADE is to dazzle us with design and colours as well as music and dance. Also, dogs.

Ann Miller plays a shallow showbiz star, first encountered coddling this cute little dach-cessory.

But, a few scenes later, we see her on the titular parade, for which she has selected canine companions more suited to her new outfit. Looks like a couple of silken windhounds to me, but heaven knows I’m no expert. The good thing about black and white dogs is they go with any outfit. Though Ann’s furry sleeves and the light-and-dark contrast of her skirt and jacket suggest an attempt to coordinate with her canines.

There’s a disappointingly dogless scene with Ann and Peter Lawford in a swank eatery where I guess there must be a no-pooch rule, but for her next appearance Ann sports her most ridiculous doggie yet, a chic chihuahua, cushioned comfortably on her muff.

He puts me in mind of a Dick Tracy wrist communicator, so that Ann might raise him to her lips and speak with HQ: “Send more dogs!” She knows nothing is calculated to impress Fred, leader of THE DOBERMANN GANG, than an ever-replenished supply of random hounds.

We are not meant to visualise a smelly back room in Ann’s elegant apartments where she keeps all these dogs. The suspicion must be that they are simply worn once and discarded, perhaps donated to the needy, or perhaps, like Burberry, she destroys them in order to prevent cheapening of the brand. In this way, the constant alternation of housepets quietly characterises Miller’s character not as a warm animal lover, but as a ruthless Cruella DeVille type. Boo! Hiss!

Still, she can dance. And, with subtle, mesmeric hand movements, she seems to draw in and push back Robert Alton’s camera (weirdly, choreographer Charles Walters directed the film but had another choreographer to direct the musical numbers). Fiona remarks, “I’m just beginning to realise what factories the old studios were!”

Gingergangers

Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2017 by dcairns

SHALL WE DANCE is perhaps not quite as good as THE GAY DIVORCEE or TOP HAT but then nothing is. It has Fred and Ginger and Gershwin tunes and Mark Sandrich directing a script by a whole gang including series regulars Adrian Scott and Ernest Pagano.

Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore (as Cecil Flintidge: clearly a role he was born for) are back as support for Fred and Ginger, but there’s no Erik Rhodes this time — Fred has taken the funny foreigner part for himself. He plays Peter P. Peters, whose stage name, Petrov, causes Ginger to expect him to be a sombre, pompous Russian ballet star before she’s met him. Overhearing her remarks, Fred resolves to BE a stage Russian (for some reason, Fred always sets out to annoy Ginger when they first meet).

His goofy Russian is hilarious, though, part Erik Rhodes, part Lugosi. He prances about the room, striking Slavic attitudes, he says “Ochi Chernye” as if it were a greeting, and ends with “I mos’ go. I mos’ go to Mos-go!” Very silly indeed.

Fred also dances with the art deco engine room of the Queen Anne, a film first. RKO’s idea of an ocean liner is probably somewhat credible — I bet 1930s liners really were built in the streamlined style. But I doubt their engine rooms were white, moderne palaces of engineering with mirrored floors and a spare double bass to slap.

The movie is so entertaining it can delay the appearance of Blore for almost half its length, and wait even longer for Fred and Ginger to dance together. We get They All Laughed and Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off (on rollerskates!), and lots of crazy farce plotting, including an uncanny development where Jerome Cowan tries to substantiate the fake news that Astaire & Rogers are married by smuggling a sort of fembot duplicate of Miss R. into Fred’s bedchamber.

Later, Fred finds the automaton stashed in a cupboard. His reaction reminded me of someone ~

Pierre Batcheff in UN CHIEN ANDALOU.

Also, Ginger has a very cute little dog.

This little nameless trouper is a natural! He burns up the screen! Fiona thought he was the cutest dog ever — he draws the eye throughout Fred’s rendition of They Can’t Take That Away from Me by being adorably sleepy. But I had to remind her of the puppy in THE YOUNG IN HEART with the one big dark eyebrow. It’s a close run thing. You can vote on it if you like.

Did he grow up to be the dog from YOJIMBO?

“Jane of Aylesbury” in THE YOUNG IN HEART. Pretty stiff competition.

Film climaxes with the eeriest number of all Fred & Ginger extravaganzas, featuring as it does a chorus of girls in detachable Ginger masks (reminding Fiona of Sheryl Lee removing her face in Twin Peaks: The Return) and also the alarming Harriet Hoctor, a diabolical creature from an alternate dimension, or else a freak born, by a cruel caprice of Mother Nature, with half her body upside down. The feather gown adds to her unreality by making her seem weightless. It’s all a bit much. She never caught on.

GOD PLEASE NO TAKE IT AWAY TAKE IT AWAY KILL IT