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WARNER

MOVIE INFO

Director:
George Stevens
Cast:
Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Victor Moore, Helen Broderick, Eric Blore, Betty Furness, Georges Metaxa
Writing Credits:
Erwin S. Gelsey (story, "Portrait of John Garnett"), Howard Lindsay, Allan Scott

Tagline:
A glorious songburst of gaiety and laughter!

Synopsis:
It's Swing Time anytime Fred and Ginger slip on their dancing shoes. Here, Fred's a gambler with a fiancee back home ... but one look at Ginger and all bets are off! He pursues, she resists, and it's all tied together by a series of breathtaking dances. "Bojangles of Harlem," a tribute to hoofer Bill Robinson, has Astaire tapping with three giant Astaire shadows. The sly "Pick Yourself Up" features Ginger teaching the supposedly flub-footed Fred how to dance. Other highlights from the splendid Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields score include "A Fine Romance," "Waltz in Swing Time," and the Academy Award(R) winning "The Way You Look Tonight." George Stevens directs.

Box Office:
Budget
$886 thousand

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 8/26/2005

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Film Historian John Mueller
• “The Swing of Things: Swing Time Step By Step” Featurette
• “Hotel a la Swing” Musical Short
• “Bingo Crosbyana” Classic Cartoon
• Trailer


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Swing Time (1936)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 20, 2007)

A new arrival on the 2007 AFI 100 list, 1936’s Swing Time gives us a look at Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their prime. Pro dancer John “Lucky” Garnett (Astaire) decides to leave his stage show to marry Margaret Watson (Betty Furness). However, his partners conspire to prevent this and succeed – in a way. When he arrives hours late for the ceremony, Lucky doesn’t get hitched on the day he planned. However, he manages to win another chance. If he can go to New York and succeed in business, he can return and take Margaret as his bride.

Lucky and mealy-mouthed Pop (Victor Moore) wind up in the Big Apple with only a quarter between them. As Pop tries to get some smokes, a misunderstanding ensues, and Lucky cheeses off pretty young dance instructor Penny Carrol (Ginger Rogers). Despite her antagonism toward him, Lucky becomes enamored of her, and he pursues her at her place of business. He initially pretends he can’t dance so she’ll have to teach him, but the truth quickly emerges and the pair tries to get a gig as a dance team. The movie follows their professional path as well as the ups and downs of their budding romance.

If you want to enjoy Time, then don’t devote much time to its analysis. Do you want a crisp plot-driven tale with indelible characters and situations? If so, then you should look elsewhere. Time offers an incredibly slight tale so flimsy that it could blow over at any moment.

Despite – or maybe even because - of the movie’s lighter than air construction, it proves to be a consistent delight. Of course, much of the credit comes from its stars. There’s a reason Astaire and Rogers remain the most famous dance team of all-time: they displayed immense chemistry and lit up the screen whenever together. We see that heat here, as they connect from minute one and become a terrific little pair. They could remake a Mentos commercial and create something inventive and delightful.

I also like the movie’s supporting cast. Moore’s Pop and Helen Broderick’s Mabel – Penny’s older, semi-homely friend – both create quirky but enjoyable characters. Indeed, Pop should probably be incredibly annoying with his muttering and stammering, but Moore brings great charm to the role and never makes him irritating or unlikable.

“Likable” and “charming” are probably the best words to describe Swing Time. This isn’t a film with much depth, so it lives and dies with its stars. Astaire and Rogers interact so nicely and create so many enjoyable dance sequences that they carry the flick. Quick-witted, funny and entertaining, this is a very pleasant ride.


The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

Swing Time appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer showed its age and demonstrated more than a few problems.

Sharpness was mediocre. The movie usually offered decent delineation, but it could be rather soft at times. Though that tendency wasn’t overwhelming, I thought it meant the film wasn’t as crisp and taut as I’d like. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but light edge enhancement cropped up through the film.

Source flaws created the biggest distractions. I noticed examples of lines, specks and marks, and quite a few instances of blotches and streaks occurred. These weren’t a consistent nuisance, and some parts of the flick looked pretty clean, but others were rather messy. Blacks seemed reasonably deep and taut, while shadows demonstrated nice delineation. Contrast was a little mushy, though, and the film’s tone remained a slightly unappealing gray. Between the issues with sharpness and source flaws, Swing Time ended up as a “C-“ transfer.

At least the monaural soundtrack of Swing Time proved more satisfying. Speech came across as a little brittle but remained intelligible and reasonably concise. Music showed good clarity; it lacked dimensionality but seemed clean and bright. Similar thoughts greeted the effects, which were acceptably clear. Some light background noise appeared, but not much for a film of this one’s era. This was a pretty good mix for its age.

A few extras fill out the DVD. We open with an audio commentary from film historian John Mueller. He offers a running, screen-specific chat. Mueller gets into cast and crew, music and dance sequences, story, pacing and cut scenes, and other production notes. He also gives us a look at the Astaire/Rogers dance team and their history of work together.

All of this means Mueller presents a good overview of the important factors. He offers nice insights into the dance scenes as well as plenty of other elements. Though he drags as the commentary progresses, he remains informative much of the time. This becomes a pretty good track.

Next comes a featurette called The Swing of Things: Swing Time Step By Step. This 14-minute and 45-second piece mixes archival elements, film clips and interviews. We hear from Mueller, film professor Rick Jewell, film critic/historian Leonard Maltin, author/archivist Larry Billman, Broadway performers/choreographers Jeffry Denman, Melissa Rae Mahon, Nancy Lemenager and Noah Racey, dancer/actress Barrie Chase, director/choreographer Randy Skinner and choreographer Hermes Pan. “Things” offers a view of the Astaire/Rogers team and their work on Swing Time. In particular, it details the dance scenes and gives us notes about them. Denman and Mahon also provide demonstrations of these sequences.

This doesn’t act as a view of the film’s creation, but it doesn’t aspire to that goal. Instead, it lets us learn more about the dancing, and it succeeds in that regard. The limited focus works well as it allows us to learn a lot more about the movie’s hoofing.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get two vintage pieces. We find a musical short called Hotel a la Swing (21:37) and a classic cartoon entitled Bingo Crosbyana (7:53). Of the pair, “Bingo” works the best. An insect Bing Crosby makes the female bugs swoon. At no point does this short excel, but it beats the other piece. “Hotel” is a pretty feeble piece of comedy that mostly acts as an excuse for a long musical performance. It’s not interesting as anything other than a historical curiosity, though the clip has held up well; it looked a bunch better than Swing Time did.

A light, charming musical, Swing Time floats to us on the backs of its stars. Without them it’d flop, but with Astaire and Rogers, it turns into a consistent delight. The DVD comes with flawed visuals, relatively good audio and a few tasty extras. The quality of this release won’t dazzle anyone, but the movie itself remains a winner.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.6666 Stars Number of Votes: 6
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