There are times where I love to think about how ridiculous movies can be at times. Moments where I take a step back from the stories and ask “How did we get here?” And when it comes to absurdity, no other movie does it quite like the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical “Swing Time.”
The film opens with stage dancer and gambler Lucky (Astaire), who leaves his show early to get married into a rich family. But as he’s leaving, his fellow dancers and “friends” keep Lucky distracted by saying he looks ridiculous on his wedding day without cuffs on his pants. They go through a clothing montage and play several rounds of dice and cards, until Lucky remembers the wedding. He ends up being over two hours late to his wedding and all the guests have gone home.
Right off the bat, I’m flabbergasted that Lucky calls these terrible people his friends. They keep him away from his own wedding, and his best chance at happiness and prosperity, just so that he’ll stay. I was surprised Lucky didn’t deck all of them in the face for making him miss his wedding.
But wait, it gets better.
As Lucky arrives at the church, he is greeted by his fiancée Mabel (Helen Broderick) and her father, who are both ready to disown him. After a smattering of words and insults, Lucky decides to bargain for Mabel’s hand in marriage. The father says that no amount of money would persuade him to make Lucky his son-in-law. But then Lucky says the ludicrous number of $25,000 and he’s suddenly on-board with this idea. This man is willing to sell his own daughter away for large sum of money, even though it was already established that he’s got plenty of money.
It’s a good thing “Swing Time” is a comedy, because the level of petty-ness and selfish-ness is off the charts. Everybody Lucky meets early on is only looking out for themselves, and will throw anybody they can under the bus to get ahead.
Of course, Lucky doesn’t have $25,000, so he heads to New York City and decides to make all his money through gambling and casinos. Along the way, he bumps into Penny (Ginger Rogers), a dancing instructor, and the two butt heads until they both realize how great the other is at dancing.
It helps that I saw “Swing Time” after seeing “The Major and the Minor” and realized how quick-witted and uproarious Ginger Rogers can be, because that made every scene with her feel exciting as if the atmosphere was charged with sass and charisma. Not only is she a terrific dancer and can keep up with Fred Astaire, but she’s always looking for an opportunity to tell a joke.
Outside of “Swing Time” the only other Astaire/Rogers movie I’ve seen is “Top Hat,” and I greatly prefer “Swing Time” because of how entertaining it is outside of the dance numbers. There is a lot of great comedy and deceptions by Lucky that I found myself looking more forward to the non-musical scenes. And as far-fetched as the plot is, the whole idea of Lucky and Penny being surrounded by terrible people having to outsmart them makes this one worth checking out.
Final Grade: B