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Shall We Dance (1937) was the seventh outing within four years for RKO superstars Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Having kept the RKO studio financially afloat during the darker days of the Great Depression, Astaire and Rogers kept movie audiences entertained too, with sublime dance numbers, romantic fantasies of Boy-Meets-Girl, and songs that stayed with the audience long after the house lights came up. But by the time Shall We Dance was released in May 1937, the luster on the Astaire & Rogers films was beginning to fade. Shall We Dance was not a critical or even a box office success, but it was not the first indication that the team was losing steam. It was while this film was being shot that RKO studio bosses met to commiserate on the disappointing returns from Swing Time, released in 1936. That film made a profit of $413,000, well below the team's usual performance. In the case of Shall We Dance, audiences may have been disappointed by the decreased number of dance routines, while critics noted that the musical was less original and the plot a virtual rehash of their previous outings. But seen today, Shall We Dance succeeds as a stylish and superior musical entertainment from the Art Deco era.
There are many things to praise here, including some truly memorable dance sequences. An outing in a park sets the stage for the most imaginative dance number in the film, a roller skate sequence set to the song "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." Despite rumors at the time of a tense working relationship, the dance team projects a real sense of having fun as they twirl, swirl and tap on wheels. It's a fantastic number and definitely a Rogers-Astaire novelty, building on the roller skate number in Gold Diggers of 1933 and raising the bar for Gene Kelly in It's Always Fair Weather (1955).
Shall We Dance also features another famous team that became legends in their own right. Brothers George and Ira Gershwin were commissioned to write a number of songs for Fred and Ginger to croon lovingly to each other. It was their second picture (their first being Delicious for Fox in 1931), and their only one for an Astaire & Rogers flick. The Gershwin tunes were not an immediate hit with the public, but in time they became popular standards. "Slap That Bass," "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," and "They Can't Take that Away From Me" were a few that the Brothers Gershwin contributed to cultural history. Sadly, George Gershwin died on July 11th, only a few months after the premiere of Shall We Dance.
By the way, Shall We Dance was originally slated as the last of the Fred-and-Ginger romps, but within a year they were together again in Carefree. They followed that with The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle in 1939, and finally teamed up for the last time in 1949 for The Barkleys of Broadway.
Director: Mark Sandrich
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay: Harold Buchman & Lee Loeb (story Watch Your Step), Ernest Pagano, Allan Scott, P.J. Wolfson (adaptation)
Cinematography: David Abel
Editor: William Hamilton
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Music: George Gershwin, Ira Gerswhin
Cast: Fred Astaire (Petrov), Ginger Rogers (Linda Keene), Edward Everett Horton (Jeffrey Baird), Eric Blore (Cecil Flintridge), Jerome Cowan (Arthur Miller).
BW-109m. Close captioning.
by Scott McGee