An early screen test of Fred Astaire’s was marked “can’t sing, can’t act, can dance a little” – well how far did a little dancing skill take this elegant screen legend. Astaire’s Hollywood icon legend was secured in the 1930’s in a series of musicals with Ginger Rogers.
Apart from Rogers, Astaire also danced on screen with such beauties as Rita Hayworth, Audrey Hepburn and Cyd Charise, by the 1960’s his career was slowing down but he made Finian’s Rainbow in 1968 before popping up in such 1970’s movies as The Towering Inferno. A truly lovely actor, here is our pick of five of his best movies.
Top Hat (1935)
Astaire, Rogers, Irving Berlin, choreography by Hermes Pan and Astaire: all the elements that define the classic Astaire-Rogers picture and, therefore, the height of the ’30s musical. When dancer Astaire hits London for the debut of his new show, his tap practice in his agent’s (Horton) hotel room wakes his downstairs neighbor, Rogers. With one look at her face, a smitten Astaire chases her all over London and even to Venice after she believes he’s really married to Horton’s wife, Broderick. Despite her marriage in a fury to an Italian designer, the lovers are reunited in a gondola at the end. The plot’s made meaningless, of course, by the elegance and bravura of the Deco sets, the perfectly integrated musical set pieces, and the justly famous pairing of Astaire and Rogers, including their renowned interpretation of “Cheek to Cheek.” All 5 Berlin tunes, including “Cheek to Cheek” and “Top Hat,” made it to the top of the charts. Selected for the National Film Registry. Academy Award Nominations: 3, including Best Picture; Best Song (“Take My Breath Away”).
Director: Mark Sandrich
Cast: Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball, Edward Everett Horton, Leonard Mudie, Ginger Rogers
Shall We Dance (1937)
Astaire and Rogers pair for the seventh time as dancers (he a Russian ballet dancer, she a Broadway musical star) who feign marriage as a publicity angle and then fall head over heels. Terrific George Gershwin score, including the famous duet “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” the title-song finale, and the wistful melody of “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” Typically high-gloss production and haute-Deco trappings make this a high point of the classic-era musical. Academy Award Nomination for Best Song (“They Can’t Take That Away From Me”). George Gershwin’s 1924 composition “Rhapsody in Blue” was so widely known that in the credits of the movie, Gershwin’s name is accompanied by a few bars of his signature composition. Gershwin died only two months after the film’s release.
Director: Mark Sandrich
Cast: Fred Astaire, Jerome Cowan, Edward Everett Horton, Ginger Rogers, Ann Shoemaker
You Were Never Lovelier (1942)
This is the stylish second outing for Astaire and Hayworth (following their equally enjoyable You’ll Never Get Rich, 1941). Astaire blows his money on the horses and finds himself at loose ends in Argentina. He pursues Menjou for a booking in his nightclub, and finds himself pursuing his daughter, Hayworth, for her hand. Besides the title song, the film score features “I’m Old-Fashioned” and “Dearly Beloved.” Academy Award Nominations: 3, Best Sound Recording; Best Song (“Dearly Beloved”); Best Scoring of a Musical Picture.
Director: William A. Seiter
Cast: Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, Adolphe Menjou
The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)
Astaire and Rogers, whose last joint project had been made 10 years before, come together one final time for this film. The magical pair play performers Josh and Dinah Barkley, whose act?and marriage?break up when Dinah decides to become a “serious actress.” Among the unforgettable numbers are “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” (which Astaire and Rogers first performed in 1937’s “Shall We Dance”), “Shoes with Wings On,” “Swing Trot,” and “You’d Be So Hard to Replace.” The dance performed by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers under the opening credits appears in the MGM compilation That’s Entertainment! III (1994) with credits removed so the dancing can be seen more clearly.
Director: Charles Walters
Cast: Fred Astaire, Billie Burke, Jacques Francois, Oscar Levant, Gale Robbins, Ginger Rogers
Funny Face (1957)
A photographer and a fashion editor, looking for a fresh face to grace the pages of their magazine, discover an alluring, intellectual bohemian in a Greenwich Village bookstore. But both the charming gamine and the cynical photographer are in for the surprise–and the romance–of their lives as they discover that they’ve jumped to some wrong conclusions about themselves and others…and that Paris in the springtime is delightful indeed. This Gershwin musical was to be produced by MGM but was given to Paramount so that Audrey Hepburn could star. Academy Award Nominations: 4, including Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography.
Director: Stanley Donen
Cast: Fred Astaire, Michel Auclair, Robert Flemyng, Audrey Hepburn, Suzy Parker, Kay Thompson
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
THIS JUST IN
California Split (Columbia 1974, Elliott Gould, George Segal)
California Split is a movie about the adventures of two card players, and it stars two of 70s-era Hollywood’s most...
China Moon (1994, Ed Harris, Madeleine Stowe)
A top notch cast raises the temperature of tight, modern noir China Moon in which homicide detective ED HARRIS becomes...
More to View
TV3 months ago
My Christmas Prince (Lifetime 2017, Alexis Knapp, Callum Alexander)
Previews3 months ago
How To Spend It Well At Christmas With Phillip Schofield Episode 2 (ITV 5 Dec 2017)
Previews1 month ago
Father Brown: The Dance of Death (BBC-1 9 Jan 2018, with Diana Kent)
Previews2 months ago
Father Brown: The Angel of Mercy (BBC-1 4 Jan 2018, with Wanda Ventham)
Previews3 months ago
Great Canal Journeys: Portugal Premieres Thurs 30 Nov on Channel 4
TV2 months ago
Runaway Christmas Bride (ION 2017, Cindy Busny, Travis Milne)
Previews2 months ago
Spy School Series Premiere Sun 7 Jan on CITV
Previews2 months ago
Extraordinary Teens: Young, Gifted And Broke – Shane Thomas airs Tues 19 Dec on Channel 4