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Archive for the ‘Melville Cooper’ Category

Let’s Dance

05 Jun

Let’s Dance – directed by Norman Z. McLeod – Backstage Musical. 117 minutes Color 1950.

★★★★★

The Story: A song and dance girl marries into a Boston High Society family, and her dance partner tries to keep its matriarch from taking her child away.

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Jaw-dropping – the possibility that the most vulgar star in movies could be partnered with the most elegant star in movies. Betty Hutton and Fred Astaire together?

Jaw-dropping – the absolute fact that they work beautifully together.

What a team! And why? It’s partly because Betty Hutton is so willing to throw herself into the work and enjoy herself so thoroughly. She does more than keep up with Astaire; she matches him step by step. She is game. She is imaginative. She is the Bette Davis of comediennes: she is willing to look grotesque to do her work. In fact she likes to do that.

But the real reason for the success of these two together is that Astaire, unlike Gene Kelly, throve as a partnered — particularly a clown-partnered dancer. The reason for that was the habit, established and by the public expected, since the days when he and his sister Adele danced on Broadway together.

But the reason also is that Musical Comedy as a medium requires most of the music to be comedic. Most musical numbers in most musical comedies are funny. Fred Astaire could be funny in solo dances – and this movie has one of his great works of comic dance: the jaw-dropping solo piano dance. But Fred Astaire also needed a partner who could dance funny. Every single song in this movie is comical, so is every dance. Astaire’s dancing plays off Hutton’s zest, just as she plays into the Hermes Pan-Astaire choreography’s zest. He matches her vulgarity with his race-track swindler strain: they come alive together and are a gas.

So while we may miss a great lyrical dance such as Astaire did with Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth, or Cyd Charisse, it doesn’t matter. Hutton would have been ridiculous in lyrical dance. She is too rowdy. But what she does with Astaire is grand. Her vulgarity is full of life energy – which gives it great audience access. She was the biggest star Paramount had in those days, and you can see why.

The movie begins better than it ends, because the antagonist played by the dowager Lucille Watson is the pivotal figure, but her pivot needs to turn on a musical entertainment hub – a number that convinces her to stop trying to get Hutton’s child. The case should never be in court; it should only threaten to go there. The story hinges on Watson’s loosening up, but it uses a horse race, whereas it should use something Hutton and Astaire dance.

The writing of the last act is over-detailed and too complicated and therefore drawn-out. But never mind. The piece is beautifully produced at Paramount, perfectly cast, and played.

Where nowadays can you find as blithe a genius as Astaire’s? Nothing like it came again. Well, you don’t have to go far. Go to the lode itself. He’s still here. Up-to-date as ever.

 
 
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