Musicals of the 1930s are pretty much screwball comedies with songs. And they’re absolutely fabulous. Especially Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers ones. Ten adorable little pieces of cinema, with perfectly executed song-and-dance numbers and heart-warming, albeit interchangeable plots. Two of them in particular, Top Hat and Swing Time, are the most iconic of them all. I re-watched them recently after a number of years and I still love them both for different reasons.
For me, Top Hat works better as a screwball comedy than Swing Time. And Swing Time works better as a musical than Top Hat. Ultimately, the point of these films – other than to showcase Fred and Ginger’s heavenly partnership – is to make you feel good. They’re musicals. They’re fun and lovely and beautiful. But for me personally, Top Hat has a better story and Swing Time has better numbers. Even though both of them share many of the same (screwball-y) qualities: quarrelling lovers, a doomed romance, misunderstandings, colourful supporting characters, one-liners and a wisecracking friend who serves as the voice of reason (Madge and Mabel, both played by Helen Broderick). Since I’m championing Top Hat as a screwball comedy, I have to mention one of the all-time great comedy supporting actors, the one and only Edward Everett Horton. I absolutely love that man and will watch anything he’s in. His mere presence in Top Hat almost made me question if I do indeed love Swing Time more.
Turns out I actually do. Always have. I think generally Top Hat is considered the most famous movie Fred and Ginger made together, but in my opinion Swing Time is better. There are more iconic numbers in Swing Time than Top Hat, for one – even though the all-time most iconic Fred/Ginger number, Cheek to Cheek, is indeed from Top Hat. But take a look at this: Pick Yourself Up (my favorite), A Fine Romance, the Oscar-winning The Way You Look Tonight, not to mention the majestic Never Gonna Dance. They are all incredible pieces of art from the song-and-dance era. And they’re all from Swing Time. I love them both, but Swing Time wins for me. Plus, it’s the movie that made me want to learn to tap-dance. It might have just been a spur of the moment, though. Never actually learned. But I will one day, hopefully. That’d be grand.