Oscar Vault Monday – Top Hat, 1935 (dir. Martin Sandrich)
Featuring one of Hollywood’s most famous screen pairings – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – Top Hat was the duo’s most financially successful film; it was the second highest grossing film of 1935. At once a musical, a dance film and a screwball comedy, the film is non-stop fun from start to finish. Top Hat was nominated for four Academy Awards, though it didn’t win any: Best Song – “Cheek To Cheek”, Best Art Direction, Best Dance Direction (a category that only existed from 1935-1937) and Best Picture. The other films nominated that year were Alice Adams, Broadway Melody of 1936, Captain Blood, David Copperfield, The Informer (which, with four wins, won the most awards that year), Les Misérables, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Naughty Marietta, Ruggles of Red Gap and winner Mutiny on the Bounty (nominated for seven awards, it is the last film to only win Best Picture and nothing else).
Mark Sandrich made several other films with Astaire and Rogers, including The Gay Divorcee, Follow the Fleet, Shall We Dance and Carefree. He also directed 1942’s Holiday Inn starring Astaire and Bing Crosby (famous for the song White Christmas). Sadly in 1945, while serving as president of the Director’s Guild, Sandrich died suddenly from heart failure.
I absolutely love Fred Astaire in this film, well in most films really. His on-screen persona is just so charming. I particularly love the scene were Roger’s Dale berates Astaire’s Jerry and says something about how she can’t understand how she could ever have fallen in love with a man like him, then slaps him. Jerry’s sole response is, “She loves me.” Astaire’s line delivery is just fantastic. Although he received an Honorary award in 1950 for his “unique artistry and his contributions to the technique of musical pictures,” Astaire’s only competitive Academy Award nomination came for 1975’s The Towering Inferno, for which he was nominated in the Best Supporting Acting category (he won both the Golden Globe and BAFTA awards for the role).
Ginger Rogers is also completely wonderful in this film, even if this character is far from the most interesting character she’s ever played. Rogers made 73 films throughout her career that lasted over 30 years. She won Best Actress for 1940’s Kitty Foyle (which coincided with the first year that the Academy did not announce the winners before the ceremony).
While the dance numbers in Swing Time are often considered superior to those featured in Top Hat, this film features some of their most famous numbers, including one set to Irving Berlin’s “Cheek To Cheek.”
Last week I mentioned my love for Edward Everett Horton, and once again I bring you a film featuring a fabulous performance from one of the greatest character actors Hollywood has ever seen. This film definitely features one of Horton’s most hilarious performances. His scenes with Astaire, as well as his scenes with his Helen Broderick, who plays his wife in the film, are some of the funniest in the film. In a career that lasted over 50 years (his first film was in 1922), Horton made over 170 film and television appearances, though he was never nominated for an Academy Award. Fun fact – author F. Scott Fitzgerald lived on a cottage on Horton’s estate for a while in the 1930s.
Helen Broderick’s Madge is the “straight man” in the film, though she has some of its funniest lines. Her deadpan responses to just about everyone in the film are downright hilarious Mother of Academy Award-Winner Broderick Crawford (Best Actor for 1949’s All The King’s Men), Helen Broderick started out as a chorus girl in one of Ziegfeld’s Follies before heading to Hollywood, where she made 35 films in the 1930s and 1940s.