Shall We Dance (1937)
“Cut loose! Relax! Unbend! and clear your throat for cheering!”
Director: Mark Sandrich
Cast: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton
Synopsis: A budding romance between a ballet master and a tapdancer becomes complicated when rumours surface that they’re already married.
Seven pairings into their 10-movie partnership, and the declining quality of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ movies was possibly evident in the generic quality of their titles. Shall We Dance more or less rehashed the wafer-thin plots of most of their previous outings and involved the participation of many of their supporting cast from their earlier movies. It’s not without its charms though, thanks to a sprinkling of humour and, of course, the sublime dancing of its leads.
Astaire plays a ballet dancer named Petrov in this one. Despite that Russian sounding name, he’s actually an American named Peter P. Peters, but he plays on the pretence in order to get to meet modern dancing star Linda Keene (Rogers). Even before he meets Keene, he shows a magazine photograph of her to his agent, Jeffrey Baird (Edward Everett Horton — The Front Page, Trouble in Paradise) and informs him that ‘maybe I’ll marry her.’ Those words prove to be prophetic, but not in the way that Petrov expects. After finally managing to meet Keene, he overhears that she’s sailing to New York the next day and makes sure that he’s on the same liner. Although Keene rejects Petrov’s advances after discovering his expansive Russian accent was all an act, the ballet dancer uses his charm — and a pack of dogs — to work his way into her affections. However, their relationship comes under threat once more when the press mistakenly report that they are secretly married…
It seems that the plot of a lot of the Astaire/Rogers movies was based on misunderstandings, and to be honest, the formula starts wearing a little thin after a while, and as the partnership matured, the movies relied more and more on the charisma and dancing skills of its leads to drag along the dead weight of the plot. Luckily, there was no finer dancing partnership than Astaire and Rogers, and while the quality of the movies in which they appeared might have started to drop at some point in the mid-to-late 1930s, their dance moves remained as sublime as ever. Shall We Dance also moves at a breakneck pace thanks to some typically snappy direction from Mark Sandrich, and the music of George and Ira Gershwin is of the quality you’d expect. Tracks include such standards as ‘Lets Call the Whole Thing Off,’ and ‘They Can’t Take That Away from Me’, but sadly it’s Astaire who gets to sing them and, as usual, the weakness of his singing voice does such classic old songs no favours.
(Reviewed 16th July 2014)