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Swing Time

Swing Time(1936)

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teaser Swing Time (1936)

SYNOPSIS

Lucky Garnett is a member of a magic-and-dance troupe, and is also a compulsive gambler. He is tricked by his friends into missing his wedding ceremony, and the furious father of the bride tells him to clear out and not return until he has $25,000, proof that he's not a worthless layabout. Lucky travels to New York to make his fortune and bumps into Penny, a dance school instructor. Instantly smitten, he enrolls in her class and pretends to be a club-footed clod. The tactic backfires and gets Penny fired from her job. Lucky then proves to Penny he's a professional dancer after all and the couple proceed to audition in different clubs around town. Despite a rocky beginning, Penny begins to warm to Lucky's romantic overtures but she's also got another admirer, the bandleader Ricardo. On the sidelines, offering advice and wisecracks along the way are Lucky's friend Pop from the old dance troupe, and Penny's acerbic older friend, Mabel.

Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Director: George Stevens
Screenplay:Howard Lindsay, Allan Scott
Story: Erwin Gelsey - "Portrait of John Garnett"
Music: Jerome Kern
Lyrics: Dorothy Fields
Dance Director: Hermes Pan
Music Director: Nathaniel Shilkret
Orchestrations: Robert Russell Bennett
Cinematography: David Abel
Film Editing: Henry Berman
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Gowns: Bernard Newman
Costume Design: John W. Harkrider
Photographic Effects: Vernon L. Walker
Sound Editor: George Marsh
Sound Recordist: Hugh McDowell, Jr.
Cast: Fred Astaire (John "Lucky" Garnett), Ginger Rogers (Penelope "Penny" Carroll), Victor Moore (Everett "Pop" Cardetti), Helen Broderick (Mabel Anderson), Eric Blore (Gordon), Betty Furness (Margaret Watson), Georges Metaxa (Ricardo Romero), Landers Stevens (Mr. Watson).
BW-104m.

WHY SWING TIME IS ESSENTIAL

George Stevens's Swing Time (1936) is the sixth pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Its story is simplistic (even for a 1930s-era musical), it is slowly developed (28 minutes go by before the first full dance sequence), and its title is a misnomer (there is not much in the way of genuine swing music in the film). In spite of all this, Swing Time is one of the great musicals of the 1930s, and many people's favorite of the Astaire-Rogers series.

The successful aspects of the film far outnumber the few weaknesses. The score by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields is outstanding. It yielded three songs which were hits of the day and have remained standards: "The Way You Look Tonight," "A Fine Romance" and "Pick Yourself Up." The songs are integrated into the story in very inventive and surprising ways. The dance numbers are also very carefully thought out to advance the story - specifically the romantic missteps, misunderstandings and misgivings of the leads. Routines brilliantly build on previous ones, containing slight returns of earlier-seen steps, they subtly echo the previous stages of the romantic relationship. Astaire, working with choreographer Hermes Pan, was inspired to create new and innovative dances, including the first trick photography used in an Astaire routine (the "Bojangles of Harlem" number). Swing Time was also the only Astaire-Rogers movie directed by the great George Stevens, a perfectionist known for shooting countless retakes until he got the scene he wanted. The main beneficiary of his shooting methods was Ginger Rogers, who gives a wonderfully nuanced performance in Swing Time, triumphing over the trite script while creating the haughty yet sympathetic character that the roller-coaster romantic plot demanded.

Swing Time is graced by a brilliant Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields song score. Of the tunes introduced in the film, none is more timeless than the Oscar®-winner, "The Way You Look Tonight." Of Kern's music, Fields later said, "the first time Jerry played that melody for me I had to leave the room because I started to cry. The release absolutely killed me. I couldn't stop, it was so beautiful." To this Fields added a tender but conversational lyric:
Someday,
When I'm awfully low
And the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you
And the way you look tonight.

The result is nothing less than one of the greatest of all romantic ballads. An indication of the charm of Swing Time is the setting in which this song is introduced - Ginger Rogers is not in a shimmering gown, but in a bathrobe with shampoo in her hair!

As wonderful as the songs were, and as cleverly as they were integrated into the film, they would not have had nearly the impact if not for the astonishing dance sequences. Even at the time, Kern's music was considered slightly old-fashioned, so much of the credit for adapting the music for the screen goes to the film's arranger Robert Russell Bennett, and by some accounts, to Fred Astaire's rehearsal pianist, Hal Borne. The music was clearly shaped for showcase dance numbers, and it is in this area that the film excels as few other films ever have, thanks to the otherworldly talents of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. There are three show-stopping duet dances with Astaire and Rogers in the film, and a brilliant solo number by Astaire. Astaire, naturally, is justly regarded as one of the greatest dancers ever caught on film, just as Rogers is regarded as his most beguiling partner. And Swing Time captures for all time some of their greatest routines, which continue to amaze even after repeated viewings.

by John Miller

back to top
teaser Swing Time (1936)

SYNOPSIS

Lucky Garnett is a member of a magic-and-dance troupe, and is also a compulsive gambler. He is tricked by his friends into missing his wedding ceremony, and the furious father of the bride tells him to clear out and not return until he has $25,000, proof that he's not a worthless layabout. Lucky travels to New York to make his fortune and bumps into Penny, a dance school instructor. Instantly smitten, he enrolls in her class and pretends to be a club-footed clod. The tactic backfires and gets Penny fired from her job. Lucky then proves to Penny he's a professional dancer after all and the couple proceed to audition in different clubs around town. Despite a rocky beginning, Penny begins to warm to Lucky's romantic overtures but she's also got another admirer, the bandleader Ricardo. On the sidelines, offering advice and wisecracks along the way are Lucky's friend Pop from the old dance troupe, and Penny's acerbic older friend, Mabel.

Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Director: George Stevens
Screenplay:Howard Lindsay, Allan Scott
Story: Erwin Gelsey "Portrait of John Garnett"
Music: Jerome Kern
Lyrics: Dorothy Fields
Dance Director: Hermes Pan
Music Director: Nathaniel Shilkret
Orchestrations: Robert Russell Bennett
Cinematography: David Abel
Film Editing: Henry Berman
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Gowns: Bernard Newman
Costume Design: John W. Harkrider
Photographic Effects: Vernon L. Walker
Sound Editor: George Marsh
Sound Recordist: Hugh McDowell, Jr.
Cast: Fred Astaire (John "Lucky" Garnett), Ginger Rogers (Penelope "Penny" Carroll), Victor Moore (Everett "Pop" Cardetti), Helen Broderick (Mabel Anderson), Eric Blore (Gordon), Betty Furness (Margaret Watson), Georges Metaxa (Ricardo Romero), Landers Stevens (Mr. Watson).
BW-104m.

Why SWING TIME is Essential

George Stevens's Swing Time (1936) is the sixth pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Its story is simplistic (even for a 1930s-era musical), it is slowly developed (28 minutes go by before the first full dance sequence), and its title is a misnomer (there is not much in the way of genuine swing music in the film). In spite of all this, Swing Time is one of the great musicals of the 1930s, and many people's favorite of the Astaire-Rogers series.

The successful aspects of the film far outnumber the few weaknesses. The score by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields is outstanding. It yielded three songs which were hits of the day and have remained standards: "The Way You Look Tonight," "A Fine Romance" and "Pick Yourself Up." The songs are integrated into the story in very inventive and surprising ways. The dance numbers are also very carefully thought out to advance the story specifically the romantic missteps, misunderstandings and misgivings of the leads. Routines brilliantly build on previous ones, containing slight returns of earlier-seen steps, they subtly echo the previous stages of the romantic relationship. Astaire, working with choreographer Hermes Pan, was inspired to create new and innovative dances, including the first trick photography used in an Astaire routine (the "Bojangles of Harlem" number). Swing Time was also the only Astaire-Rogers movie directed by the great George Stevens, a perfectionist known for shooting countless retakes until he got the scene he wanted. The main beneficiary of his shooting methods was Ginger Rogers, who gives a wonderfully nuanced performance in Swing Time, triumphing over the trite script while creating the haughty yet sympathetic character that the roller-coaster romantic plot demanded.

Swing Time is graced by a brilliant Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields song score. Of the tunes introduced in the film, none is more timeless than the Oscar®-winner, "The Way You Look Tonight." Of Kern's music, Fields later said, "the first time Jerry played that melody for me I had to leave the room because I started to cry. The release absolutely killed me. I couldn't stop, it was so beautiful." To this Fields added a tender but conversational lyric:
Someday,
When I'm awfully low
And the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you
And the way you look tonight.

The result is nothing less than one of the greatest of all romantic ballads. An indication of the charm of Swing Time is the setting in which this song is introduced Ginger Rogers is not in a shimmering gown, but in a bathrobe with shampoo in her hair!

As wonderful as the songs were, and as cleverly as they were integrated into the film, they would not have had nearly the impact if not for the astonishing dance sequences. Even at the time, Kern's music was considered slightly old-fashioned, so much of the credit for adapting the music for the screen goes to the film's arranger Robert Russell Bennett, and by some accounts, to Fred Astaire's rehearsal pianist, Hal Borne. The music was clearly shaped for showcase dance numbers, and it is in this area that the film excels as few other films ever have, thanks to the otherworldly talents of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. There are three show-stopping duet dances with Astaire and Rogers in the film, and a brilliant solo number by Astaire. Astaire, naturally, is justly regarded as one of the greatest dancers ever caught on film, just as Rogers is regarded as his most beguiling partner. And Swing Time captures for all time some of their greatest routines, which continue to amaze even after repeated viewings.

by John Miller

back to top
teaser Swing Time (1936)

Pop Culture 101 - SWING TIME:

The lyricist of Swing Time (1936), Dorothy Fields, had a 48-year-long career during which she co-wrote more than 400 songs for both stage and film. She worked on 15 Broadway musicals, and co-wrote numerous hits ranging from "On the Sunny Side of the Street" in 1930 to "If My Friends Could See Me Now" in 1965. Her stage work included such shows as Annie Get Your Gun and Sweet Charity. Her major stint in Hollywood spanned the decade of the 1930s. With Jimmy McHugh, Fields wrote such film songs as "I'm in the Mood for Love" and "Dinner at Eight." Teaming with Jerome Kern, she worked on the films Roberta (1935), I Dream Too Much (1935), Joy of Living (1938), and of course Swing Time. The classic "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby", written with McHugh, has been heard in a long string of movies - from the 1931 Mickey Mouse cartoon "The Birthday Party" to the features Street Scene (1931), Bringing Up Baby (1938), So This Is Paris (1955), Nixon (1995), The Green Mile (1999), and Catch Me If You Can (2002).

Jerome Kern was one of the Broadway greats and will be forever remembered for the immortal 1927 production Show Boat and the classic "Ol' Man River," written with Oscar Hammerstein II. After his great success with the show Roberta in 1933, Kern went to Hollywood and seldom looked back. His first task was to add additional music to his Roberta score for the 1935 RKO movie version. He enlisted lyricist Dorothy Fields, and the results included the classic "Lovely To Look At." Kern moved on to original songs for the movies. Aside from Swing Time, Kern wrote music for such films as Reckless (1935), I Dream Too Much, When You're in Love (1937), One Night in the Tropics (1940), Lady Be Good (1941), You Were Never Lovelier (1942), and Cover Girl (1944). Kern died in 1945 and an MGM biopic followed: 1946's Till the Clouds Roll By. In that film the Swing Time score was represented by a rendition of "A Fine Romance" by Virginia O'Brien.

Swing Time was adapted for Broadway in 2003 as Never Gonna Dance. Following the basic plot of the film, the show served as a Jerome Kern revue as it featured additional Kern classics in addition to those from the film. The Never Gonna Dance book was by Jeffrey Hatcher. The show ran for 84 performances and was directed by Michael Greif and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell.

Dorothy Fields usually avoided topical references in her lyrics (unlike, say, Cole Porter), but several creep into songs in Swing Time. In "Never Gonna Dance" there is a reference to Major Edward Bowes, who hosted a popular radio Amateur Hour; and to the Marx Brothers, as Fred Astaire sings:
And to Groucho Marx I give my cravat.
To Harpo goes my shiny silk hat.

"A Fine Romance" contains the line, You don't have half the thrills that `The March of Time' has. The March of Time, an offshoot of Henry Luce's Time Magazine empire, was the most popular newsreel series shown in movie theaters in the late 1930s. At the time of this mention in song, the series was brand new, having been started by producer Louis de Rochemont in 1935. The series could be seen in theaters until 1951, but it reached its popular peak in the years leading up to WWII. The March of Time was known for being more sensationalistic than other studios' newsreel series, and was parodied (as "News On the March") at the beginning of Citizen Kane (1941). No surprise here, but The March of Time newsreels were distributed by RKO Pictures, the maker of Swing Time. Coincidence? More likely, this was an early example of Corporate Synergy!

Fred Astaire's erstwhile fiance in Swing Time is played by RKO contract player Betty Furness. Furness came to movies from a New York modeling career and went on beyond Hollywood to an amazing set of careers in the following 50 years: early television, advertising, politics, consumer activism, TV journalism and more. She began at age fourteen as a model for the famed Powers agency in New York, in 1930. She was signed by RKO in 1932 and went on to make over 30 Hollywood films, moving back to New York after her contract was up. She hoped for a theater career but found herself working in the mid-1940s in the then-primitive television industry. She appeared on fashion shows and live dramas, and during an episode of Studio One she stepped in to host a commercial for the show's sponsor, Westinghouse. The appliance company executives were impressed and hired Furness to be their exclusive spokeswoman. Soon Furness was getting more fan mail for pitching kitchen appliances than were the stars appearing on the sponsored shows. Furness was with Westinghouse for an amazing 12 years and became a household name. She also hosted programs and appeared on many quiz shows as a panelist. In the 1960s Furness took a job as Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs during the Johnson administration. This led directly to her starting a new field of broadcast journalism the consumer reporter. For eighteen years she campaigned against consumer fraud and did reports on local New York television as well as on NBC for The Today Show. Following a bout with cancer, Furness died in 1994.

Woody Allen certainly must admire the Swing Time song score "The Way You Look Tonight" is the song used in Carrie Fisher's audition scene in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and the song also turns up in the Allen films Alice (1990), Deconstructing Harry (1997), and Anything Else (2003). In addition, the Swing Time song "A Fine Romance" is heard in Allen's Another Woman (1988).

by John Miller

back to top
teaser Swing Time (1936)

The lyricist of Swing Time (1936), Dorothy Fields, had a 48-year-long career during which she co-wrote more than 400 songs for both stage and film. She worked on 15 Broadway musicals, and co-wrote numerous hits ranging from "On the Sunny Side of the Street" in 1930 to "If My Friends Could See Me Now" in 1965. Her stage work included such shows as Annie Get Your Gun and Sweet Charity. Her major stint in Hollywood spanned the decade of the 1930s. With Jimmy McHugh, Fields wrote such film songs as "I'm in the Mood for Love" and "Dinner at Eight." Teaming with Jerome Kern, she worked on the films Roberta (1935), I Dream Too Much (1935), Joy of Living (1938), and of course Swing Time. The classic "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby", written with McHugh, has been heard in a long string of movies - from the 1931 Mickey Mouse cartoon "The Birthday Party" to the features Street Scene (1931), Bringing Up Baby (1938), So This Is Paris (1955), Nixon (1995), The Green Mile (1999), and Catch Me If You Can (2002).

Jerome Kern was one of the Broadway greats and will be forever remembered for the immortal 1927 production Show Boat and the classic "Ol' Man River," written with Oscar Hammerstein II. After his great success with the show Roberta in 1933, Kern went to Hollywood and seldom looked back. His first task was to add additional music to his Roberta score for the 1935 RKO movie version. He enlisted lyricist Dorothy Fields, and the results included the classic "Lovely To Look At." Kern moved on to original songs for the movies. Aside from Swing Time, Kern wrote music for such films as Reckless (1935), I Dream Too Much, When You're in Love (1937), One Night in the Tropics (1940), Lady Be Good (1941), You Were Never Lovelier (1942), and Cover Girl (1944). Kern died in 1945 and an MGM biopic followed: 1946's Till the Clouds Roll By. In that film the Swing Time score was represented by a rendition of "A Fine Romance" by Virginia O'Brien.

Swing Time was adapted for Broadway in 2003 as Never Gonna Dance. Following the basic plot of the film, the show served as a Jerome Kern revue as it featured additional Kern classics in addition to those from the film. The Never Gonna Dance book was by Jeffrey Hatcher. The show ran for 84 performances and was directed by Michael Greif and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell.

Dorothy Fields usually avoided topical references in her lyrics (unlike, say, Cole Porter), but several creep into songs in Swing Time. In "Never Gonna Dance" there is a reference to Major Edward Bowes, who hosted a popular radio Amateur Hour; and to the Marx Brothers, as Fred Astaire sings:
And to Groucho Marx I give my cravat.
To Harpo goes my shiny silk hat.

"A Fine Romance" contains the line, You don't have half the thrills that 'The March of Time' has. The March of Time, an offshoot of Henry Luce's Time Magazine empire, was the most popular newsreel series shown in movie theaters in the late 1930s. At the time of this mention in song, the series was brand new, having been started by producer Louis de Rochemont in 1935. The series could be seen in theaters until 1951, but it reached its popular peak in the years leading up to WWII. The March of Time was known for being more sensationalistic than other studios' newsreel series, and was parodied (as "News On the March") at the beginning of Citizen Kane (1941). No surprise here, but The March of Time newsreels were distributed by RKO Pictures, the maker of Swing Time. Coincidence? More likely, this was an early example of Corporate Synergy!

Fred Astaire's erstwhile fiance in Swing Time is played by RKO contract player Betty Furness. Furness came to movies from a New York modeling career and went on beyond Hollywood to an amazing set of careers in the following 50 years: early television, advertising, politics, consumer activism, TV journalism and more. She began at age fourteen as a model for the famed Powers agency in New York, in 1930. She was signed by RKO in 1932 and went on to make over 30 Hollywood films, moving back to New York after her contract was up. She hoped for a theater career but found herself working in the mid-1940s in the then-primitive television industry. She appeared on fashion shows and live dramas, and during an episode of Studio One she stepped in to host a commercial for the show's sponsor, Westinghouse. The appliance company executives were impressed and hired Furness to be their exclusive spokeswoman. Soon Furness was getting more fan mail for pitching kitchen appliances than were the stars appearing on the sponsored shows. Furness was with Westinghouse for an amazing 12 years and became a household name. She also hosted programs and appeared on many quiz shows as a panelist. In the 1960s Furness took a job as Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs during the Johnson administration. This led directly to her starting a new field of broadcast journalism the consumer reporter. For eighteen years she campaigned against consumer fraud and did reports on local New York television as well as on NBC for The Today Show. Following a bout with cancer, Furness died in 1994.

Woody Allen certainly must admire the Swing Time song score "The Way You Look Tonight" is the song used in Carrie Fisher's audition scene in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and the song also turns up in the Allen films Alice (1990), Deconstructing Harry (1997), and Anything Else (2003). In addition, the Swing Time song "A Fine Romance" is heard in Allen's Another Woman (1988).

by John Miller

back to top
teaser Swing Time (1936)

Trivia & Other Fun Stuff

Swing Time was originally going to bear a title of Never Gonna Dance or I Won't Dance, but it was decided such a name would not be very enticing for a movie musical. Director George Stevens is credited with coming up with the final title.

A common criticism leveled at Swing Time is that it drags in the beginning. The first musical sequence occurs roughly 24 minutes into the picture. Actually, though, the film was to have started with a musical number. There was originally a routine by Astaire and his buddies in the magic-and-dance troupe, to a song called "It's Not in the Cards." The number was deemed weak and cut from the film. The sequence did exist in the print sent to Radio City Music Hall for its premiere, and several early New York reviews mention it. All subsequent prints deleted the scene however, and the footage is apparently lost. As the film opens now, we only see Astaire coming offstage after the number, and the viewer feels cheated as a result.

Swing Time director George Stevens cast his father, Landers Stevens, as the irate potential father-in-law who gets the movie's plot rolling. The elder Stevens had been an actor in films since 1920. Seldom playing more than bit parts, he nevertheless appeared in 90 movies before his death in 1940.

Swing Time features the first real kiss of the Astaire-Rogers series, though the audience does not see it directly. Actually, two kisses are implied. One occurs behind a door that swings open and blocks the camera's view, and the other occurs with Fred's back to the camera. It would be two more films before we see an unobstructed on-screen kiss between the pair.

George Stevens' direction and the photography by David Abel emphasized the shimmering contrasts often seen in the Astaire-Rogers films. The glittering whites and the deep blacks are constantly showing up in the sets, costumes and design. It is no mistake that snow is repeated several times as a romantic motif, and mirrored on the major club set as twinkling stars.

Helen Broderick (Mabel in Swing Time) had appeared in one other Astaire-Rogers film, Top Hat in 1935, but five years earlier she had appeared in the original Broadway production of The Band Wagon which featured Fred and Adele Astaire in their final joint appearance. She is the mother of actor Broderick Crawford, who would later win the Best Actor Oscar® for All the King's Men (1949).

George Stevens also directed the 1935 Wheeler & Woolsey comedy The Nitwits, featuring the song "Music in My Heart," co-written by Swing Time lyricist Dorothy Fields.

A year prior to Swing Time, Ginger Rogers sang several Dorothy Fields-penned lyrics, in the movie In Person. Rogers danced to "Out of Sight, Out of Mind," sang "Don't Mention Love to Me," and sang and danced to "Got a New Lease on Life." These songs were co-written by Fields and Oscar Levant.

Eric Blore, the rotund and fussy dance school instructor in Swing Time, shows up in four Astaire-Rogers movies, more than any other supporting player. His other appearances are in The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat, and Shall We Dance (1937).

In 1935 Fred Astaire was signed to the Brunswick label to record new studio versions of his movie songs. Without Ginger Rogers, he released several Swing Time songs on 78rpm records. In 1936 these titles were recorded with backing by Johnny Green and His Orchestra: "The Way You Look Tonight", "Never Gonna Dance", "Pick Yourself Up", "A Fine Romance", and "Bojangles of Harlem." On the latter, we hear Fred's dancing as well.

According to author Arlene Croce in The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book, The Silver Sandal nightclub in Swing Time "was named after The Silver Slipper on West 48th Street, one of New York's best-known night clubs. Like most of the clubs it was gone by 1932; another club with the same name was opened in the Forties. The Club Raymond was a composite of Hollywood's Clover Club, where movie people did a lot of heavy gambling, and the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center, which opened the same year that Silver Slipper closed. In the film, John Harkrider's set for "Bojangles" looks like part of the Silver Sandal."

by John Miller

Famous Quotes from SWING TIME

Margaret (Betty Furness): John Dear - you'll come back soon, won't you?
Lucky (Fred Astaire): Well, that all depends upon the stakes - er, the stocks - er, business!

Penny (Ginger Rogers): Alright, give it back.
Lucky: Uh, give what back?
Penny: The quarter you stole from my purse - hand it over or I'll call a policeman.
Lucky: I haven't got it - I gave it to you back at the cigarette machine.
Penny: Officer!
Cop (Edgar Dearing): What seems to be the trouble - Oh, good morning, Sir!
Penny: Officer, this man stole a quarter from my purse - make him give it back.
Cop: Now Miss, does he look like a man who would go around stealing quarters?
Penny: I don't care what you think he happens to look like, I know he stole my quarter.
Cop: Run along now, you're obstructing traffic.
Penny: Why you- you- Cossack!
Lucky: Officer, you know - you had no right to speak to that little girl that way.
Cop: Oh, I suppose you're gonna tell me what my duty is...
Lucky: Not at all, but I...
Cop: Listen - guys like you pay me to protect them from screwy dames!
Lucky: That's all very well, but in this instance I'm sure you were wrong.
Cop: Oh, so now I'm wrong - you ought to thank me for what I've done.
Lucky (sarcastically): Well, alright - thank you!
Cop: Alright!(Truck horn beeps repeatedly as Pop says something in cop's direction)
Cop: What did you say?
Pop (Victor Moore): I said 'Look out for the great big ditch!'

Lucky (caught gambling, he has lost his pants): Penny! Uh... listen - Penny, look - let me explain - see, the clothes that I had before...
Penny: When you're talking to a lady, you should take your hat off.
Mabel (Helen Broderick): Your petticoat's showing...

Announcer at club: This concludes "The Ricardo Romero Romantic Melody Hour."
Lucky: You know, I don't like that fellow.
Penny: Oh, he's very nice.
Lucky: WHAT?
Penny: You have no reason to dislike him - you don't even know him.
Lucky: That's true, but when I dislike someone for no reason I find it more enjoyable.

Penny: What's the name of this place we're going to?
Mabel: The new Amsterdam. I used to go there in the summers as a kid. Y'know - before the War.
Pop: Which war?

Lucky: You're not really angry
Penny: No - disappointed.
Lucky: Aw, don't be that way - you're too nice.
Penny: You're nice too, sometimes.
Lucky: Only sometimes?
Penny: Well, there're times when I can't make you out - when you're so...aloof.
Lucky: Oh, so I'm aloof, am I? (Lucky leans in for a kiss, gets hit by a snowball from Pop).
Pop: Ohhh - C'mon and play.
Penny: He wants to play.

Lucky: Penny... oh, never mind. I just want to wish you good luck ... and all that.
Penny: And all what?
Lucky: Whatever you want.
Penny: Does she dance very beautifully?
Lucky: Who?
Penny: The girl you're in love with.
Lucky: Yes. Very.
Penny: The girl you're engaged to the girl you're going to marry.
Lucky: Oh, I don't know. I've danced with you. I'm never going to dance again.

Compiled by John Miller

back to top
teaser Swing Time (1936)

Swing Time was originally going to bear a title of Never Gonna Dance or I Won't Dance, but it was decided such a name would not be very enticing for a movie musical. Director George Stevens is credited with coming up with the final title.

A common criticism leveled at Swing Time is that it drags in the beginning. The first musical sequence occurs roughly 24 minutes into the picture. Actually, though, the film was to have started with a musical number. There was originally a routine by Astaire and his buddies in the magic-and-dance troupe, to a song called "It's Not in the Cards." The number was deemed weak and cut from the film. The sequence did exist in the print sent to Radio City Music Hall for its premiere, and several early New York reviews mention it. All subsequent prints deleted the scene however, and the footage is apparently lost. As the film opens now, we only see Astaire coming offstage after the number, and the viewer feels cheated as a result.

Swing Time director George Stevens cast his father, Landers Stevens, as the irate potential father-in-law who gets the movie's plot rolling. The elder Stevens had been an actor in films since 1920. Seldom playing more than bit parts, he nevertheless appeared in 90 movies before his death in 1940.

Swing Time features the first real kiss of the Astaire-Rogers series, though the audience does not see it directly. Actually, two kisses are implied. One occurs behind a door that swings open and blocks the camera's view, and the other occurs with Fred's back to the camera. It would be two more films before we see an unobstructed on-screen kiss between the pair.

George Stevens' direction and the photography by David Abel emphasized the shimmering contrasts often seen in the Astaire-Rogers films. The glittering whites and the deep blacks are constantly showing up in the sets, costumes and design. It is no mistake that snow is repeated several times as a romantic motif, and mirrored on the major club set as twinkling stars.

Helen Broderick (Mabel in Swing Time) had appeared in one other Astaire-Rogers film, Top Hat in 1935, but five years earlier she had appeared in the original Broadway production of The Band Wagon which featured Fred and Adele Astaire in their final joint appearance. She is the mother of actor Broderick Crawford, who would later win the Best Actor Oscar® for All the King's Men (1949).

George Stevens also directed the 1935 Wheeler & Woolsey comedy The Nitwits, featuring the song "Music in My Heart," co-written by Swing Time lyricist Dorothy Fields.

A year prior to Swing Time, Ginger Rogers sang several Dorothy Fields-penned lyrics, in the movie In Person. Rogers danced to "Out of Sight, Out of Mind," sang "Don't Mention Love to Me," and sang and danced to "Got a New Lease on Life." These songs were co-written by Fields and Oscar Levant.

Eric Blore, the rotund and fussy dance school instructor in Swing Time, shows up in four Astaire-Rogers movies, more than any other supporting player. His other appearances are in The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat, and Shall We Dance (1937).

In 1935 Fred Astaire was signed to the Brunswick label to record new studio versions of his movie songs. Without Ginger Rogers, he released several Swing Time songs on 78rpm records. In 1936 these titles were recorded with backing by Johnny Green and His Orchestra: "The Way You Look Tonight", "Never Gonna Dance", "Pick Yourself Up", "A Fine Romance", and "Bojangles of Harlem." On the latter, we hear Fred's dancing as well.

According to author Arlene Croce in The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book, The Silver Sandal nightclub in Swing Time "was named after The Silver Slipper on West 48th Street, one of New York's best-known night clubs. Like most of the clubs it was gone by 1932; another club with the same name was opened in the Forties. The Club Raymond was a composite of Hollywood's Clover Club, where movie people did a lot of heavy gambling, and the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center, which opened the same year that Silver Slipper closed. In the film, John Harkrider's set for "Bojangles" looks like part of the Silver Sandal."

by John Miller

Famous Quotes from SWING TIME

Margaret (Betty Furness): John Dear you'll come back soon, won't you?
Lucky (Fred Astaire): Well, that all depends upon the stakes er, the stocks er, business!

Penny (Ginger Rogers): Alright, give it back.
Lucky: Uh, give what back?
Penny: The quarter you stole from my purse hand it over or I'll call a policeman.
Lucky: I haven't got it I gave it to you back at the cigarette machine.
Penny: Officer!
Cop (Edgar Dearing): What seems to be the trouble...Oh, good morning, Sir!
Penny: Officer, this man stole a quarter from my purse make him give it back.
Cop: Now Miss, does he look like a man who would go around stealing quarters?
Penny: I don't care what you think he happens to look like, I know he stole my quarter.
Cop: Run along now, you're obstructing traffic...
Penny: Why you... you... Cossack!
Lucky: Officer, you know you had no right to speak to that little girl that way.
Cop: Oh, I suppose you're gonna tell me what my duty is...
Lucky: Not at all, but I...
Cop: Listen guys like you pay me to protect them from screwy dames!
Lucky: That's all very well, but in this instance I'm sure you were wrong.
Cop: Oh, so now I'm wrong you ought to thank me for what I've done.
Lucky (sarcastically): Well, alright thank you!
Cop: Alright!(Truck horn beeps repeatedly as Pop says something in cop's direction)
Cop: What did you say?
Pop (Victor Moore): I said 'Look out for the great big ditch!'

Lucky (caught gambling, he has lost his pants): Penny! Uh listen Penny, look let me explain see, the clothes that I had before...
Penny: When you're talking to a lady, you should take your hat off.
Mabel (Helen Broderick): Your petticoat's showing...

Announcer at club: This concludes "The Ricardo Romero Romantic Melody Hour."
Lucky: You know, I don't like that fellow.
Penny: Oh, he's very nice.
Lucky: WHAT?
Penny: You have no reason to dislike him you don't even know him.
Lucky: That's true, but when I dislike someone for no reason I find it more enjoyable.

Penny: What's the name of this place we're going to?
Mabel: The new Amsterdam. I used to go there in the summers as a kid. Y'know before the War.
Pop: Which war?

Lucky: You're not really angry...
Penny: No disappointed.
Lucky: Aw, don't be that way you're too nice.
Penny: You're nice too, sometimes.
Lucky: Only sometimes?
Penny: Well, there're times when I can't make you out when you're so...aloof.
Lucky: Oh, so I'm aloof, am I? (Lucky leans in for a kiss, gets hit by a snowball from Pop).
Pop: Ohhh C'mon and play.
Penny: He wants to play.

Lucky: Penny oh, never mind. I just want to wish you good luck and all that.
Penny: And all what?
Lucky: Whatever you want.
Penny: Does she dance very beautifully?
Lucky: Who?
Penny: The girl you're in love with.
Lucky: Yes. Very.
Penny: The girl you're engaged to the girl you're going to marry.
Lucky: Oh, I don't know. I've danced with you. I'm never going to dance again.

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teaser Swing Time (1936)

The Big Idea Behind SWING TIME

Fred Astaire was a stage dancer with his sister Adele and wowed the 1920s crowds in London and New York. When Adele married and retired, Astaire found himself partnerless at age 34, and tried his luck in Hollywood. After a tentative start at MGM, he found himself in 1933 at RKO Pictures. It was there that his screen persona emerged full-blown in a dance routine with established starlet Ginger Rogers. The picture was the Delores del Rio vehicle Flying Down To Rio where the dancers were fourth and fifth billed. The pair was a sensation and received top billing in eight more pictures at RKO movies that did nothing less than define the musical genre for the decade of the 1930s: high gloss, good humor, breezy sophistication, brilliant dance, and zero references to the real world outside the movie theatre. These pictures were an Art Deco dream scored with a matchless songbook of immortal music from the likes of Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and George Gershwin.

Swing Time (1936) appeared in the middle of the Astaire-Rogers series and came at a time when the films were being produced at the steady clip of two a year. Roberta and Top Hat had been released in 1935, and Follow the Fleet had already been released in early 1936. Even so, the major players were ready to turn on the steam and work even harder on the series. Astaire was extremely precise and exhaustive with his rehearsals and routines the effortlessness that he achieved on film came about only after a great deal of effort. He had always prided himself on filming routines full figure, without close-ups or cutaways, to emphasize the movement of his entire body, and to give the viewer the feeling of seeing a perfected version of a stage routine. By the arrival of Swing Time, he was ready to push the limits of what he had done before.

Meanwhile, Ginger Rogers faced different challenges before filming Swing Time. She was in the middle of negotiating a new contract with RKO. She was tired of the long hours and low pay, but the primary issue to her was the enforced servitude required in playing any part that RKO assigned her. She wanted more freedom to pick her roles and was tired of the lightheaded, snappy blonde stereotypes she was playing. On the advice of her agent Leland Hayward, Rogers refused to show up for rehearsals for Swing Time. Realizing the great loss Rogers' absence would be to the series, RKO agreed to the contract demands.

If Rogers was looking for more of a challenge in the acting department, she must have been thrilled to learn that George Stevens was set to direct Swing Time. Taking over from Mark Sandrich, director of three of the previous films in the series, Stevens was a slow and meticulous director. He was fond of multiple takes, so Rogers could take advantage of the opportunity and fine-tune her performance.

The plot in such films as Swing Time is never much more than the vehicle for musical interludes and provides the standard formula for uniting the two protagonists, dividing them due to circumstances and misunderstanding, then reuniting them again. Erwin Gelsey provided the necessary elements for Swing Time in his story "Portrait of John Garnett," which scriptwriter Howard Lindsay fleshed out in script form. The Astaire-Rogers scripts have a reputation for totally ignoring the Great Depression, labor strife and political debates that existed outside the studio doors and for good reason, audiences wanted escapism, not realism. Unique among the films in the series, Swing Time contains a few oblique nods to these issues. Near the beginning of the story we see Lucky, in top hat and tuxedo, hop a freight train, a preferred mode of transportation for those looking for work in the Depression. Later we hear Penny refer to a policeman as a "Cossack," and then there is the scene with Lucky and Pop picketing outside Penny's apartment, protesting her "unfair" practices. It is unknown which of the writers provided this slight hint of social commentary; Lindsay's draft was apparently reworked from top to bottom by another writer, Allan Scott. The script was still unfinished as shooting began, which may explain the finale, in which all of the character's inconsistencies and the holes in the plot are literally laughed away. Following rehearsals, shooting on Swing Time began in May of 1936.

Some of the songs for Swing Time were written to order for the plot, and lyricist Dorothy Fields had to write these without the benefit of first hearing the melody. For the early scene in which Fred Astaire pretends to have two left feet on the dance floor, Fields wrote wonderfully bouncy words of encouragement:
Nothing's impossible, I have found.
For when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up, dust myself off,
Start all over again.
Don't lose your confidence if you slip.
Be grateful for a pleasant trip,
And pick yourself up; dust yourself off;
Start all over again.

For two of the classic songs in Swing Time, Dorothy Fields composed lyrics first, which were then set to music by Kern. For "Pick Yourself Up," the script demanded a song in a scene where Rogers is encouraging Astaire, who is pretending to be a stumblebum on the dance floor. "A Fine Romance" is a sarcastic love ballad, required in a scene where Astaire and Rogers are taking turns avoiding the advances of the other, as demanded by the plot. The words are playful and still affectionate; they were sung memorably in the film in a snow-covered romantic setting:A fine romance, with no kisses.
A fine romance, my friend, this is.
We should be like a couple of hot tomatoes.
But you're as cold as yesterday's mashed potatoes.

Apparently these were the only two songs in Fields' long career which were written without first having the melody, and it is a testament to the high quality of Swing Time's songs that these two plot-driven tunes have remained standards in their own right.

Astaire wanted at least a couple of the numbers in the film to actually "swing," which put him at odds with the musically conservative Kern. When a number in Swing Time does reflect swingin' sensibilities, it is largely thanks to arranger Robert Russell Bennett. As the title of the song implies, the "Waltz in Swing Time" sequence is the most obvious example of his work Kern provided the lilting tune, but Bennett gave the stars something to dance to. During rehearsals, Astaire's pianist Hal Borne also contributed many musical ideas and ways to adapt the Kern material for dance time.

by John Miller

back to top
teaser Swing Time (1936)

Fred Astaire was a stage dancer with his sister Adele and wowed the 1920s crowds in London and New York. When Adele married and retired, Astaire found himself partnerless at age 34, and tried his luck in Hollywood. After a tentative start at MGM, he found himself in 1933 at RKO Pictures. It was there that his screen persona emerged full-blown in a dance routine with established starlet Ginger Rogers. The picture was the Delores del Rio vehicle Flying Down To Rio where the dancers were fourth and fifth billed. The pair was a sensation and received top billing in eight more pictures at RKO - movies that did nothing less than define the musical genre for the decade of the 1930s: high gloss, good humor, breezy sophistication, brilliant dance, and zero references to the real world outside the movie theatre. These pictures were an Art Deco dream scored with a matchless songbook of immortal music from the likes of Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and George Gershwin.

Swing Time (1936) appeared in the middle of the Astaire-Rogers series and came at a time when the films were being produced at the steady clip of two a year. Roberta and Top Hat had been released in 1935, and Follow the Fleet had already been released in early 1936. Even so, the major players were ready to turn on the steam and work even harder on the series. Astaire was extremely precise and exhaustive with his rehearsals and routines - the effortlessness that he achieved on film came about only after a great deal of effort. He had always prided himself on filming routines full figure, without close-ups or cutaways, to emphasize the movement of his entire body, and to give the viewer the feeling of seeing a perfected version of a stage routine. By the arrival of Swing Time, he was ready to push the limits of what he had done before.

Meanwhile, Ginger Rogers faced different challenges before filming Swing Time. She was in the middle of negotiating a new contract with RKO. She was tired of the long hours and low pay, but the primary issue to her was the enforced servitude required in playing any part that RKO assigned her. She wanted more freedom to pick her roles and was tired of the lightheaded, snappy blonde stereotypes she was playing. On the advice of her agent Leland Hayward, Rogers refused to show up for rehearsals for Swing Time. Realizing the great loss Rogers' absence would be to the series, RKO agreed to the contract demands.

If Rogers was looking for more of a challenge in the acting department, she must have been thrilled to learn that George Stevens was set to direct Swing Time. Taking over from Mark Sandrich, director of three of the previous films in the series, Stevens was a slow and meticulous director. He was fond of multiple takes, so Rogers could take advantage of the opportunity and fine-tune her performance.

The plot in such films as Swing Time is never much more than the vehicle for musical interludes and provides the standard formula for uniting the two protagonists, dividing them due to circumstances and misunderstanding, then reuniting them again. Erwin Gelsey provided the necessary elements for Swing Time in his story "Portrait of John Garnett," which scriptwriter Howard Lindsay fleshed out in script form. The Astaire-Rogers scripts have a reputation for totally ignoring the Great Depression, labor strife and political debates that existed outside the studio doors and for good reason, audiences wanted escapism, not realism. Unique among the films in the series, Swing Time contains a few oblique nods to these issues. Near the beginning of the story we see Lucky, in top hat and tuxedo, hop a freight train, a preferred mode of transportation for those looking for work in the Depression. Later we hear Penny refer to a policeman as a "Cossack," and then there is the scene with Lucky and Pop picketing outside Penny's apartment, protesting her "unfair" practices. It is unknown which of the writers provided this slight hint of social commentary; Lindsay's draft was apparently reworked from top to bottom by another writer, Allan Scott. The script was still unfinished as shooting began, which may explain the finale, in which all of the character's inconsistencies and the holes in the plot are literally laughed away. Following rehearsals, shooting on Swing Time began in May of 1936.

Some of the songs for Swing Time were written to order for the plot, and lyricist Dorothy Fields had to write these without the benefit of first hearing the melody. For the early scene in which Fred Astaire pretends to have two left feet on the dance floor, Fields wrote wonderfully bouncy words of encouragement:
Nothing's impossible, I have found.
For when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up, dust myself off,
Start all over again.
Don't lose your confidence if you slip.
Be grateful for a pleasant trip,
And pick yourself up; dust yourself off;
Start all over again.

For two of the classic songs in Swing Time, Dorothy Fields composed lyrics first, which were then set to music by Kern. For "Pick Yourself Up," the script demanded a song in a scene where Rogers is encouraging Astaire, who is pretending to be a stumblebum on the dance floor. "A Fine Romance" is a sarcastic love ballad, required in a scene where Astaire and Rogers are taking turns avoiding the advances of the other, as demanded by the plot. The words are playful and still affectionate; they were sung memorably in the film in a snow-covered romantic setting:A fine romance, with no kisses.
A fine romance, my friend, this is.
We should be like a couple of hot tomatoes.
But you're as cold as yesterday's mashed potatoes.

Apparently these were the only two songs in Fields' long career which were written without first having the melody, and it is a testament to the high quality of Swing Time's songs that these two plot-driven tunes have remained standards in their own right.

Astaire wanted at least a couple of the numbers in the film to actually "swing," which put him at odds with the musically conservative Kern. When a number in Swing Time does reflect swingin' sensibilities, it is largely thanks to arranger Robert Russell Bennett. As the title of the song implies, the "Waltz in Swing Time" sequence is the most obvious example of his work - Kern provided the lilting tune, but Bennett gave the stars something to dance to. During rehearsals, Astaire's pianist Hal Borne also contributed many musical ideas and ways to adapt the Kern material for dance time.

by John Miller

back to top
teaser Swing Time (1936)

Behind The Camera on SWING TIME

With Hermes Pan, Fred Astaire expanded the stage-bound setting of one routine in Swing Time (1936), performing separate sequences on two different levels separated by a third venue two sets of stairs. In another sequence, Astaire and Pan utilized their first bit of trick photography, as Astaire dances with his own shadow in "Bojangles of Harlem."The "Bojangles of Harlem" sequence is also unique in the Fred Astaire canon as his only blackface number. The original conception was actually much more elaborate than what ended up on film. A scenario called "Hot Fields" was prepared as a loose parody of the all-black vehicle "Green Pastures." It would have involved the Bojangles character traveling through a variety of stylized sets representing Heaven, Hell and jungle locations, and would have involved many routines with that most familiar Bill Robinson setting - stairs. Thirty-three scenes would have been required. No doubt such an elaborate series of sequences was deemed to be too expensive to construct and film. All that remains in the film is an introduction to the character involving an outsized bowler hat which turns into enormously long legs. Also of note in the final sequence is that the blackface makeup used was evenly applied, and was not the typically caricatured Vaudeville blackface which emphasized the eyes and lips.

The actual inspiration for "Bojangles of Harlem" was the RKO musical, Hooray for Love (1935), which starred Fats Waller and Bill Robinson. Dorothy Fields, with Jimmy McHugh, had written the songs for it and Fields wrote "Bojangles of Harlem" in a similar vein. According to author Arlene Croce in The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book, "When the song arrived on Hal Borne's piano rack, it was in 2/4 time. "I played it for Fred, and he had kind of a strange look on his face," Borne recalls. "That was the trouble with Kern. His melodies were the greatest but his syncopation was corny. It was corny then. Fred said, 'I like the melody and the lyric is just fine, but why don't we swing it? Then we can come back to 2/4.' But it still wasn't right. And it wasn't long enough. I added a section, which I played on an upright piano. It was based on a vamp idea that kept going up different keys. That was not a harpsichord, it was a doctored piano, and that was not Kern, it was me. We always had to do these things in production numbers."

During rehearsals for the "Bojangles of Harlem" sequence, Hermes Pan noticed that three light sources were creating a group of Fred Astaire shadows dancing in perfect sync, and got the idea for the special effects shots in the dance. Astaire was filmed in silhouette, then tripled. The dance proper was then filmed against a process screen and combined with the shadow footage optically by RKO effects chief Vernon Walker. The effect was by no means perfect, however, as there is some "bleeding" of the image the process screen shows through Astaire's hair at several points.

By most accounts director George Stevens' presence made quite a difference on the set. His reputation for perfectionism matched that of Astaire, so the same shooting ethic observed during the dance sequences extended into the non-dancing sequences. This meant multiple takes to work through problematic scenes. One pesky problem that came up on the set dealt with the soap that Ginger Rogers had in her hair while Astaire sang "The Way You Look Tonight." Real soap would not do, so a variety of substitutes, including shaving cream and whipped eggs, were attempted. According to Rogers, whipped cream finally did the trick and held up under the hot lights long enough to get the shot.

According to author Arlene Croce, Stevens "could be as slow as [Mark] Sandrich and somewhat portentous. Toward the end of "Never Gonna Dance," he attempts a daring crane shot but then cuts to a stationary angle at the top of the stairs. It may have been one of the few Astaire-Rogers dances that couldn't be filmed entirely in one continuous shot, for its climax, a spine-chilling series of turns by Rogers, took forty takes to accomplish."In the most recounted example of the lengths the dancers and director would go to for perfection, witness the multiple takes required for the "Never Gonna Dance" number. Rogers recalled, "We did final work on this number into the wee small hours of a Saturday night, and more than forty-eight takes were recorded. Everything that could have gone wrong did during the shooting of this number: an arc light went out; there was a noise in the camera; one of us missed a step in the dance, where Fred was supposed to catch me in the final spins; and once, right at the end of a perfect take, his toupee flipped off! I kept on dancing even though my feet really hurt. During a break, I went to the sidelines and took my shoes off; they were filled with blood. I had danced my feet raw. Hermes [Pan, the choreographer] saw what had happened and offered to stop the shooting. I refused. I wanted to get the thing done. Finally, we got a good take in the can, and George said we could go home - at 4:00 a.m."

Shooting wrapped in late July, and Swing Time had its premiere in New York on August 27th, 1936.

by John Miller

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teaser Swing Time (1936)

With Hermes Pan, Fred Astaire expanded the stage-bound setting of one routine in Swing Time (1936), performing separate sequences on two different levels separated by a third venue - two sets of stairs. In another sequence, Astaire and Pan utilized their first bit of trick photography, as Astaire dances with his own shadow in "Bojangles of Harlem."The "Bojangles of Harlem" sequence is also unique in the Fred Astaire canon as his only blackface number. The original conception was actually much more elaborate than what ended up on film. A scenario called "Hot Fields" was prepared as a loose parody of the all-black vehicle "Green Pastures." It would have involved the Bojangles character traveling through a variety of stylized sets representing Heaven, Hell and jungle locations, and would have involved many routines with that most familiar Bill Robinson setting - stairs. Thirty-three scenes would have been required. No doubt such an elaborate series of sequences was deemed to be too expensive to construct and film. All that remains in the film is an introduction to the character involving an outsized bowler hat which turns into enormously long legs. Also of note in the final sequence is that the blackface makeup used was evenly applied, and was not the typically caricatured Vaudeville blackface which emphasized the eyes and lips.

The actual inspiration for "Bojangles of Harlem" was the RKO musical, Hooray for Love (1935), which starred Fats Waller and Bill Robinson. Dorothy Fields, with Jimmy McHugh, had written the songs for it and Fields wrote "Bojangles of Harlem" in a similar vein. According to author Arlene Croce in The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book, "When the song arrived on Hal Borne's piano rack, it was in 2/4 time. "I played it for Fred, and he had kind of a strange look on his face," Borne recalls. "That was the trouble with Kern. His melodies were the greatest but his syncopation was corny. It was corny then. Fred said, 'I like the melody and the lyric is just fine, but why don't we swing it? Then we can come back to 2/4.' But it still wasn't right. And it wasn't long enough. I added a section, which I played on an upright piano. It was based on a vamp idea that kept going up different keys. That was not a harpsichord, it was a doctored piano, and that was not Kern, it was me. We always had to do these things in production numbers."

During rehearsals for the "Bojangles of Harlem" sequence, Hermes Pan noticed that three light sources were creating a group of Fred Astaire shadows dancing in perfect sync, and got the idea for the special effects shots in the dance. Astaire was filmed in silhouette, then tripled. The dance proper was then filmed against a process screen and combined with the shadow footage optically by RKO effects chief Vernon Walker. The effect was by no means perfect, however, as there is some "bleeding" of the image - the process screen shows through Astaire's hair at several points.

By most accounts director George Stevens' presence made quite a difference on the set. His reputation for perfectionism matched that of Astaire, so the same shooting ethic observed during the dance sequences extended into the non-dancing sequences. This meant multiple takes to work through problematic scenes. One pesky problem that came up on the set dealt with the soap that Ginger Rogers had in her hair while Astaire sang "The Way You Look Tonight." Real soap would not do, so a variety of substitutes, including shaving cream and whipped eggs, were attempted. According to Rogers, whipped cream finally did the trick and held up under the hot lights long enough to get the shot.

According to author Arlene Croce, Stevens "could be as slow as [Mark] Sandrich and somewhat portentous. Toward the end of "Never Gonna Dance," he attempts a daring crane shot but then cuts to a stationary angle at the top of the stairs. It may have been one of the few Astaire-Rogers dances that couldn't be filmed entirely in one continuous shot, for its climax, a spine-chilling series of turns by Rogers, took forty takes to accomplish."In the most recounted example of the lengths the dancers and director would go to for perfection, witness the multiple takes required for the "Never Gonna Dance" number. Rogers recalled, "We did final work on this number into the wee small hours of a Saturday night, and more than forty-eight takes were recorded. Everything that could have gone wrong did during the shooting of this number: an arc light went out; there was a noise in the camera; one of us missed a step in the dance, where Fred was supposed to catch me in the final spins; and once, right at the end of a perfect take, his toupee flipped off! I kept on dancing even though my feet really hurt. During a break, I went to the sidelines and took my shoes off; they were filled with blood. I had danced my feet raw. Hermes [Pan, the choreographer] saw what had happened and offered to stop the shooting. I refused. I wanted to get the thing done. Finally, we got a good take in the can, and George said we could go home - at 4:00 a.m."

Shooting wrapped in late July, and Swing Time had its premiere in New York on August 27th, 1936.

by John Miller

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teaser Swing Time (1936)

THE CRITIC'S CORNER - SWING TIME (1936)

"Miss Rogers at least shares 50-50 with Astaire in Swing Time honors, and there will be those who give her an even greater share. Not only does her dancing improve with each appearance, but likewise her acting, and here she shows a distinct flair for delightful comedy." - Regina Crews, New York American, Sept. 1936

"It is high time that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were relieved of the necessity of going through a lot of romantic nonsense in their screen musicales. The vast success of Swing Timeis more of a tribute to them than to the material of their latest song and dance carnival. They have never performed with more exquisite finish, but the production itself is uneven and definitely disappointing in its conclusion." - New York Herald Tribune, Sept. 1936

"Swing Time is perhaps a shade under previous par, but it's another box office and personal winner for the Fred Astaire - Ginger Rogers combo. It's smart, modern, and impressive in every respect, from its tunefulness, dancipation, production quality and general high standards. There are six Jerome Kern tunes (Dorothy Fields' clever lyrics don't retard the motivation either) andthis particular sextet of songs is consistently fetching and a good variety of material, certain to command general radio and other exploitive attention. This is George Stevens' first directorial chore for Astaire-Rogers and also his first filmusical on the RKO lot. [He] has done a highly competent job considering everything." - Abel. Variety, Sept. 1936

"We won't say Fred hasn't ever been as good as he is in Swing Time because - well, because he has. But this is certainly Ginger's triumphant vehicle. She's a delectable eyeful and earful." - Irene Thirer, New York Evening Post, Sept. 1936

"If, by any chance, you are harboring any fears that Mr. Astaire and Miss Rogers have lost their magnificent sense of rhythm, be assured. Their routines, although slightly more orthodox than usual, still exemplify ballroom technique at its best Nothing so intangible as a disappointing score should deter you from enjoying them to the Astaire-Rogers limit." - Frank S. Nugent, The New York Times, Sept. 1936

"If plot, script and supporters are below par, the score by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields is peerlessAnd nothing Fred and Ginger did together surpasses their lengthy, climactic duet, taking off from "Never Gonna Dance," which reminds you that dance is the most perfect sexual metaphor of them all." - Stephen Gilbert, TimeOut Film Guide

"Since Astaire and Rogers are both playing appealing, unpretentious characters, we want them to succeed. There is a sweetness to their romance that can't be found in their other films; that's because both seem vulnerable. This is a film in which both stars prove to be excellent comedic actors - they seem to be having a good time together even when they're not dancing, perhaps because they like the characters they're playing." - Danny Peary, Guide For the Film Fanatic

"Swing Time is a movie about a myth, the myth of Fred and Ginger and the imaginary world of romance they live in. It is a world of nighttime frolics very much like Top Hat's [1935], but it is also a middle-class, workaday, American world...Swing Time is based on Top Hat, not as a remake, but as a jazz rhapsody might be based on a classic theme; its materials are romantic irony, contrast, the fantasy of things going in reverse. The snow of Swing Time is as magical as the rain of "Isn't This a Lovely Day?" and the white hotels of Venice. If you put Top Hat in a glass ball like a paperweight and turned it upside down, it would be Swing Time. And at the end of Swing Time, the sun comes out through the falling snow." - Arlene Croce in The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers BookAwards and Honors:

Swing Time won an Oscar® in 1937 for Best Song in the Music category. Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields won for "The Way You Look Tonight." Such a result would appear to be almost inevitable until you see the stiff competition: other nominees included Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" from Born to Dance and "Pennies from Heaven" by Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke, from the movie of the same name. The only other Oscar nomination earned by Swing Time was for Best Dance Direction, for Hermes Pan's work on the "Bojangles of Harlem" number. It lost to Seymour Felix's dance direction on "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" from The Great Ziegfeld.

by John Miller

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teaser Swing Time (1936)

It is rare that the third film in a series is ever good. So what chances would the sixth have of being a classic? An exception has to be made, however, for the sixth pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Swing Time (1936).

To get past the least important part of the movie first, here's the plot. Fred is a dancer who loves to gamble but he is leaving both obsessions behind to marry fiancee Margaret (Betty Furness). When he is tricked into missing his own wedding, Fred is sent penniless, but elegantly dressed, to New York to earn $25,000 to win her back. His plans start to derail after he runs into dance instructor Ginger Rogers. This leads to the first dance number, "Pick Yourself Up." With that, one classic song by composers Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields follows another: "A Fine Romance," "Never Gonna Dance" and the Academy Award winning "Just The Way You Look Tonight."

"Never Gonna Dance" was originally slated to be the title of this film while "I Won't Dance" and "Pick Yourself Up" were also considered. Finally director George Stevens suggested Swing Time as a more upbeat title. Stevens, later to helm such masterpieces as Shane (1953) and Giant (1956), replaced Astaire and Rogers' usual director Mark Sandrich. Stevens even put in a cameo for his father who plays Astaire's fiancee's father.

Rogers, then displeased with the quality of her films, was very happy to have such a well-respected director overseeing the film. Perhaps this was also due to a rumored romance between the star and director. Nevertheless, Stevens was a perfectionist and did not spare Rogers in his drive to achieve what he wanted on screen. An early example of such problems was the shampoo that was supposed to be in Rogers' hair while Astaire sang "The Way You Look Tonight." Real shampoo would run off her head and stain her clothing. After going through take after take with different soaps and none working, shaving cream was tried, and then whipped eggs that began to cook under the hot lights. Finally whipped cream was used and it managed to cling to Rogers' hair long enough to finish the scene.

Astaire, a perfectionist in his own right, made things equally difficult for the movie's songwriters. He wanted songs that featured swing, the new sound then popularized by big bands. Kern, a composer of the old school, had some difficulty with the new idiom but eventually supplied the song "Bojangles of Harlem." Astaire turned it into a tribute to Bill Robinson, the most famous tap-dancer of the early Twentieth Century. The number featured another first for Astaire, a dance routine with special effects in which he dances with a previously filmed shadow of himself multiplied into three through the magic of film lab processing.

The search for perfection reached its peak in one scene that must have seemed it would never end, the conclusion of the "Never Gonna Dance" number. Rogers recalled, "We did final work on this number into the wee small hours of a Saturday night, and more than forty-eight takes were recorded. Everything that could have gone wrong did during the shooting of this number: an arc light went out; there was a noise in the camera; one of us missed a step in the dance, where Fred was supposed to catch me in the final spins; and once, right at the end of a perfect take, his toupee flipped off! I kept on dancing even though my feet really hurt. During a break, I went to the sidelines and took my shoes off; they were filled with blood. I had danced my feet raw. Hermes [Pan, the choreographer] saw what had happened and offered to stop the shooting. I refused. I wanted to get the thing done. Finally, we got a good take in the can, and George said we could go home - at 4:00 a.m."

There is no argument that all the backstage headaches were worth the trouble. What is amazing is how invisible they are on screen. All that is left is some of the best music ever written for a motion picture and a couple dancing with effortless grace.

Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Director: George Stevens
Screenplay: Howard Lindsay, Allan Scott, story by Erwin S. Gelsey
Cinematography: David Abel
Film Editing: Henry Berman
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Music: Jerome Kern
Cast: Fred Astaire (John Garnett), Ginger Rogers (Penelope Carroll), Victor Moore (Pop Everett), Helen Broderick (Mabel Anderson), Eric Blore (Gordon), Betty Furness (Margaret Watson).
BW-104m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.

by Brian Cady

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teaser Swing Time (1936)

Awards and Honors:

Swing Time won an Oscar® in 1937 for Best Song in the Music category. Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields won for "The Way You Look Tonight." Such a result would appear to be almost inevitable until you see the stiff competition: other nominees included Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" from Born to Dance and "Pennies from Heaven" by Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke, from the movie of the same name. The only other Oscar nomination earned by Swing Time was for Best Dance Direction, for Hermes Pan's work on the "Bojangles of Harlem" number. It lost to Seymour Felix's dance direction on "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" from The Great Ziegfeld.

The Critics' Corner: SWING TIME (1936)

"Miss Rogers at least shares 50-50 with Astaire in Swing Time honors, and there will be those who give her an even greater share. Not only does her dancing improve with each appearance, but likewise her acting, and here she shows a distinct flair for delightful comedy." - Regina Crews, New York American, Sept. 1936

"It is high time that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were relieved of the necessity of going through a lot of romantic nonsense in their screen musicales. The vast success of Swing Time...is more of a tribute to them than to the material of their latest song and dance carnival. They have never performed with more exquisite finish, but the production itself is uneven and definitely disappointing in its conclusion." - New York Herald Tribune, Sept. 1936

"Swing Time is perhaps a shade under previous par, but it's another box office and personal winner for the Fred Astaire - Ginger Rogers combo. It's smart, modern, and impressive in every respect, from its tunefulness, dancipation, production quality and general high standards. ...There are six Jerome Kern tunes (Dorothy Fields' clever lyrics don't retard the motivation either) and...this particular sextet of songs is consistently fetching and a good variety of material, certain to command general radio and other exploitive attention. ...This is George Stevens' first directorial chore for Astaire-Rogers and also his first filmusical on the RKO lot. [He] has done a highly competent job considering everything." - Abel. Variety, Sept. 1936

"We won't say Fred hasn't ever been as good as he is in Swing Time because - well, because he has. But this is certainly Ginger's triumphant vehicle. She's a delectable eyeful and earful." - Irene Thirer, New York Evening Post, Sept. 1936

"If, by any chance, you are harboring any fears that Mr. Astaire and Miss Rogers have lost their magnificent sense of rhythm, be assured. Their routines, although slightly more orthodox than usual, still exemplify ballroom technique at its best ...Nothing so intangible as a disappointing score should deter you from enjoying them to the Astaire-Rogers limit." - Frank S. Nugent, The New York Times, Sept. 1936

"If plot, script and supporters are below par, the score by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields is peerless...And nothing Fred and Ginger did together surpasses their lengthy, climactic duet, taking off from "Never Gonna Dance," which reminds you that dance is the most perfect sexual metaphor of them all." - Stephen Gilbert, TimeOut Film Guide

"Since Astaire and Rogers are both playing appealing, unpretentious characters, we want them to succeed. There is a sweetness to their romance that can't be found in their other films; that's because both seem vulnerable. This is a film in which both stars prove to be excellent comedic actors - they seem to be having a good time together even when they're not dancing, perhaps because they like the characters they're playing." - Danny Peary, Guide For the Film Fanatic

"Swing Time is a movie about a myth, the myth of Fred and Ginger and the imaginary world of romance they live in. It is a world of nighttime frolics very much like Top Hat's [1935], but it is also a middle-class, workaday, American world...Swing Time is based on Top Hat, not as a remake, but as a jazz rhapsody might be based on a classic theme; its materials are romantic irony, contrast, the fantasy of things going in reverse. The snow of Swing Time is as magical as the rain of "Isn't This a Lovely Day?" and the white hotels of Venice. If you put Top Hat in a glass ball like a paperweight and turned it upside down, it would be Swing Time. And at the end of Swing Time, the sun comes out through the falling snow." - Arlene Croce in The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book

Compiled by John Miller

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