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Swing Time

One of the most beloved of the ten movies starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Swing Time (1936) boasts a marvelous score by Jerome Kern and some of the most delightful dance numbers of Astaire's career. Astaire plays John "Lucky" Garnett , a dancer with a fondness for gambling who's set to marry a high-society dame and give up his wild ways — until his buddies pull a fast one on him, making him late for the wedding. When his fiancée's father puts the kibosh on the nuptials until John makes a non-dancing success of himself in New York City, he heads off to the big town to seek his fortune. Dead broke with nothing but the wedding attire on his back, a dust-up over John's "lucky quarter" serves as the cute-meet between Lucky and Penny Carrol (Rogers), a teacher at a dance academy. His pursuit of her into her place of business leads to the first dance number, "Pick Yourself Up," and a nightclub job as a dance duo — which, typically, he botches by refusing to admit he doesn't have a tuxedo. Their subsequent dancing-and-singing courtship includes memorable numbers like the exquisite "The Way You Look Tonight" — sung by Astaire to Rogers as she shampoos her hair — as well as the snowbound ode to sexual frustration "A Fine Romance" and the technically dazzling but oh-so-politically incorrect "Bojangles of Harlem," with Astaire tap-dancing in blackface surrounded by leggy, lily-white showgirls. Often called the very best of Astaire-Rogers pairings, Swing Time undeniably is one of the best written, with terrific second-banana performances from character actors Victor Moore, Betty Furness, and Helen Broderick — and Astaire's declaration of love in "Never Gonna Dance" stands as one of the sweetest, most sophisticated pitchings of woo ever set to music. Warner's DVD release of Swing Time offers a clean transfer in the original full-screen ratio (1.33:1). Yes, the black-and-white source print reveals some dust and scratching — but remarkably little, and the contrast is delightfully rich and vivid. The monaural Dolby Digital audio is stunningly clean as well. Extras include a commentary track by John Mueller, author of "Astaire Dancing," who provides a wealth of information about the musical numbers (including an opening sequence that was excised after early screenings deemed the film too long), overly analytical opinions about the film's structure, fascinating background on all the actors, and a frequent stating of the obvious by describing what's currently happening on-screen ("Here's where Astaire sings the song's first verse") — all in all, interesting but a mixed bag. Vintage 1937 extras include the early Friz Freleng cartoon "Bingo Crosbyana" about a community of kitchen pests swooning over a "brave caballero" fly who proves to be a big coward when an evil spider come on the scene, the short "Hotel a la Swing" (21 min.) starring Eddie Foy, Jr., the featurette "The Swing of Things: Swing Time Step-by-Step" (15 min.) with a number of film pundits discussing why Swing Time is so darn swell, and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
— Dawn Taylor

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