Robert Osborne on Fred Astaire
Having Fred with us all month long also automatically means marvelous music by Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and the Gershwins. It also means Fred 'n 'Ginger, Fred and Rita, Fred and Cyd and the kind of good humor, spirited fun and exceptional entertainment that all of us, except perhaps Mr. Scrooge, enjoy having be a part of our lives at the year-end holidays.
This month on Turner Classic Movies we promise you 25 Astaire musicals, including all 10 that he made with Ginger Rogers, also the two treasures in which he danced with Rita Hayworth, his pair of unforgettable pairings with Cyd Charisse, two others he made with the marvelous Vera-Ellen and two gems with the underrated Lucille Bremer.
You'll also have the chance to watch him glide and glimmer over shipboard decks, country inn floors, Ziegfeld stages and other surfaces with a long parade of great partners such as Eleanor Powell, Ann Miller, Judy Garland, Jane Powell, Virginia Dale, Joan Leslie, Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, Jack Buchanan and even George Burns, Gracie Allen and (yes, no kidding) Peter Lorre. You'll also have a chance to see the musicals he made with some of the more dance-challenged leading ladies he had, namely Joan Fontaine, Paulette Goddard, Marjorie Reynolds and Winston Churchill's daughter Sarah who, if not born Terpsichoreans, at least were good sports and, I think, deserve high marks for having the courage to get on a dance floor with the astonishing Astaire in the first place, especially when they were being asked to hoof with The Master while a camera was recording the encounter. (Some nerve that had to take!)
Besides the multitude of partnerings, of course, you'll be able to see plenty of Astaire solos, something he always made sure happened at least once, if not more, in each of the musicals he made, for one primary reason: Fred always felt that when audiences watched the dance numbers in his movies, most people kept their eyes not on him, but on his partners--Ginger in her flowing gowns, Rita tossing around her famous hair and sensuous body, Cyd flashing her gorgeous mile-long legs--which caused him some concern. He later admitted he did those solos because "I wanted to make sure at least once in the movie people would watch what I was doing."
What I admire most about Astaire and those magic feet of his--something I hope you notice this month when you watch him dance, whether alone or partnered--is this: in his musical sequences, you always see all of Astaire, full-bodied, top to toes, and once the dancing starts, very rarely is there ever a cut throughout the entire number. It's true talent on display, accomplished without cutting, splicing or a film editor's tricks. And how lucky we are, thanks to that miraculous invention called "film," to still have Fred and his talented cohorts with us, doing what they did so beautifully, seamlessly and artfully. It's our holiday gift to you, with pleasure.
by Robert Osborne