The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)    1 Stars

“Joyously Together Again!”

The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)
The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)


Director: Charles Walters

Cast: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Oscar Levant

Synopsis: A successful but constantly-feuding husband and wife musical comedy team threatens to break up when the wife entertains an offer to become a serious actress.




Ten years after Fred Astaire (Second Chorus, Royal Wedding) and Ginger Rogers (42nd Street, Stage Door) last danced together on the big screen, MGM decided to re-unite them in the hopes of rekindling some of the old RKO magic (and replicating some of the box office returns, of course).   The Barkleys of Broadway was written by Betty Comden and Adolf Green, who would go on to much bigger hits like Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and Band Wagon (1953), and featured music and lyrics from Adolph Deutsch and Ira Gershwin.   Its credentials were impeccable, then, and were supported by the usual lush MGM production values.   But for some reason, The Barkleys of Broadway has never received the measure of praise awarded to Astaire and Rogers’ earlier work.

It’s an ok movie, though, and the duo appears to have lost none of their rhythm on the dance floor – or in their comical moments together.   Perhaps with a hint of irony, they play dancing partners who are also husband and wife.   While Josh and Dinah Barkley are an unbeatable act on the stage, they constantly bicker, largely because perfectionist Josh is overly critical of Dinah’s moves.   When a serious young French playwright (Jacques Francois – The Day of the Jackal) insists he will cast no one but Dinah in the role of his new play she sees it not only as an opportunity to branch out in a new creative direction, but to get one over on her husband.   However, her decision threatens the future of the Barkley’s stage act and their marriage.

Although Astaire had just turned 50 and Rogers was 38 when they made The Barkleys of Broadway, they’d lost none of their style or energy in the ten years since their last movie together.   They fitted together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and would glide seamlessly across their stage, the deceptively effortless fluidity of their movements the product of countless grinding hours of rehearsal.   There was usually a strong vein of humour in the movies of Astaire and Rogers, and The Barkleys of Broadway is no exception.   Rogers was a natural comedienne, as well as a fine dancer, while Astaire’s long, narrow face would have seemed more suited to comedy than elegant dance.   The duo also receive strong support here from Oscar Levant, who’s rewarded with a couple of piano numbers of his own, and from Gale Robbins whose sly comic act as Dinah’s eager understudy deserved a lot more screen time.

While it’s probably not the most entertaining of the Astaire and Rogers movies, The Barkleys of Broadway is nevertheless a glossy, diverting exercise in old-style charm and wit that is surely overdue for re-appraisal.

(Reviewed 11th September 2015)


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