The Barkleys of Broadway
Though 1949's The Barkleys of Broadway is rather slight, it's greatness can be credited to its offering Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers one last dance for the cameras. After a successful but tumultuous partnership that carried the duo through nine previous pairings, they spent ten years apart as Astaire soldiered on with musicals while Rogers stretched her legs in other genres (netting an Oscar in 1941 for Kitty Foyle). But though both had their victories elsewhere, the two will always be remembered best for their work together, and Barkleys is not only notable for it being their last collaboration, but their first and only outing in color. Written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the film (like their later effort, 1953's The Band Wagon) draws inspiration from real life: Astaire and Rogers play Josh and Dinah Barkley, a couple who've been together for years, although the seams of their marriage are showing. He's a perfectionist who always harps on her mistakes, while she longs to leave the song-and-dance side of showbiz for meatier roles. After a weekend in the country, Dinah decides to split and take a role in Jacques Barredout's (Jacques Francois) new show; the director also may be trying to romance her. Trying to patch the couple up is best friend Ezra Miller (Oscar Levant, always great support), while Josh helps Dinah's performance by pretending to be Jacques. Like most of their films together, the plot of The Barkleys of Broadway is a trifle that allows for numerous song-and-dance numbers, with the standout being Astaire's reprisal of "They Can't Take that Away from Me" (from Shall We Dance). The movie doesn't feel as elegant as its black-and-white predecessors (perhaps it's the garish colors), and it's tempting to suggest that the Astaire-Rogers aesthetic was both informed by and ensconced in 1930s mores. But the moment the two begin dancing in synchronicity, whatever faults the film might have melt away as cinema's greatest dancing duo traipse across the screen. Even though the two hadn't been on screen for a decade, there's no rust or wear they click back into their old habits and move together as gracefully as they had before. Director Charles Walters lets most of the numbers play out in uninterrupted takes it's the only way to show the artistry of such talents, as well as a deft adieu to their partnership. Warner presents The Barkleys of Broadway in a full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) and DD 1.0 audio. The transfer is a bit soft, giving the film a soft-focus feel, and the colors are slightly spoiled by age, although the soundtrack is strong. Extras include the featurette "Reunited: Astaire and Rogers Together Again" (13 min.), the short film "Annie was a Wonder" with Kathleen Freeman, the Droopy cartoon "Wags to Riches" (7 min.) and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.