The Hollywood musical has pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur. Contemporary audiences, corn-fed on laser battles with green aliens and tights-wearing, invulnerable superheroes who defy gravity, somehow find the idea of a film in which actors suddenly burst into song as “intolerably unrealistic!”
The genre’s peak era began at the dawn of sound, in the early 1930s, with Busby Berkeley at Warners and RKO’a teaming of the inimitable Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The musical climaxed twenty later, in the 1950s, with the “arty” musicals of Gene Kelly, Vincent Minelli, and Stanley Donan.
Mark Sandrich directed a number of the RKO musicals with Astaire and Rogers. His first teaming with them was The Gay Divorcee (1934). This was followed by Top Hat (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), Shall We Dance (1937) and Carefree (1938). Later, he directed Astaire with Bing Crosby in 1924’s Holiday Inn (which some people still confuse with the inferior 1954 remake, White Christmas) and Blue Skies (1946).
Top Hat is Astaire and Rogers’ at their near-peak, although some revisionists have argued that honor should actually go to the George Stevens directed Swing Time (1936). I’m not siding with the Swing Time revisionists, because I have my own revisionist opinion, which I will cover down a later RKO road. Top Hat is a near-perfect film from Hollywood’s near-perfect decade, and it’s pure class, catapulting Depression-era man from his oppressive environment for 101 minutes of “Heaven, I’m in heaven” (well almost 101 minutes. More on that later). Astaire’s choreography blends seamlessly with the musical direction of the great composer Max Continue reading TOP HAT (1935)