Exactly thirty years ago I saw my first musical with the golden duo Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Top Hat (Mark Sandrich, 1935). I didn’t know what happened to me. I enjoyed the antagonistic dynamics between Fred & Ginger, refreshed myself with the alternating graceful and energetic dance numbers and felt very good afterwards: a feeling of bliss had come over me.
For me, Fred & Ginger are the ultimate happiness hormone. This is also due to the beautiful music that Irving Berlin wrote especially for Top Hat, all his compositions became ‘standards’, one a little more than the other.
Of the nine musicals Fred & Ginger made together for film studio RKO, Top Hat is the best. And where contemporary musicals are crammed with far too much song and dance, Top Hat limits itself to five song and dance numbers. They are also all different: Astaire has a solo (‘No Strings’), a tap dance number (the title song ‘Top Hat’), the duo introduces a new dance in the climax (‘The Piccolino’), but the most beautiful are the romantic duets. In one they find each other for the first time, when they take shelter from the storm. It results in a graceful choreography in which they challenge each other: ‘Isn’t This A Lovely Day To Be Caught in the Rain’. In the ultimate romantic dance ‘Cheek to Cheek’ they find each other again. This leads to a musical climax with a fairly obvious erotic charge. Ginger’s blissful smile at the end confirms that much-discussed lecture. Top Hat is a pretty bold movie anyway. The film revolves around a mistaken identity: Ginger mistakenly thinks Fred is married, after which she is highly surprised that Fred’s ‘wife’ – actually a colleague’s wife – encourages their romance. The same woman also thinks it’s fine that her husband and Fred stay overnight in the bridal suite due to circumstances: “Go ahead, boys.”
Warm movies for the new year
Also read the choice for the best films for the New Year from:
Peter de Bruijn: Wonder Boys
Dana Linssen: The Lord of the Rings-trilogie
Sabeth Snijders: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Coen van Zwol: Paddington 2
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A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of December 29, 2021