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Top Hat’ offers fantastic dancing, little plot

Observer Scene | Monday, March 27, 2006

When is the story completely sacrificed for the entertainment value of a film? When Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers join together on the silver screen in Mark Sandrich’s “Top Hat.” The five times Astaire and Rogers dance together drive this film forward and present its only reason for existing – making it difficult to find a plot.

“Top Hat” played at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC) Saturday as part of the DPAC Classic 100 series. The story revolves around Jerry Travers, played by Fred Astaire, and his romantic pursuit of Ginger Rogers’ Dale Tremont. Mistaken identities ensue, and slaps on the face pull the characters from London to Venice.

Aside from the main characters, Horace Hardwick’s butler Bates spies, and the Italian dress designer, Alberto Beddini, runs through the film with his rapier and even sharper sense of gender roles. The characterization and plot take a backseat to the theatrics of the dancing that occurs around every corner.

According to IMDB.com, this was the first film written specifically with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in mind as the leads – and they both dance beautifully. While Astaire steals the show as the better dancer, his voice leaves a bit to be desired. The beautiful Rogers – while an excellent dancer – truly shines when she sings.

Perhaps the most famous scene of the film is the “Cheek to Cheek” dance sequence. The song was written by Irving Berlin and garnered an Academy Award nomination for best original song. This sequence sums up the film’s themes of dancing and romance, as both are displayed here. Astaire is appropriately suave while Rogers swoons. It may not be politically correct, but the relationship between the two adds a classic feel to the film.

Two other memorable scenes occur near the opening of the film. When the characters of Travers and Tremont are first introduced, Travers wakes Tremont with his impressive dancing and then lulls her to sleep as he dances on sand above her room like a true gentleman.

The next is when a storm stands both of them on a gazebo. This is the first time that Rogers displays her considerable dancing and singing skills. Travers begins the dance and Tremont follows his lead. She ultimately ends up adding her own parts of the dance in an elaborate and obvious courtship scene where Travers steals her heart.

While the dancing is top notch throughout the film, the production value is not. The parts of the film that take place in London look like sets from an older film – appropriately glamorous while classically reserved.

However, when the film shifts to Venice, the production value drops. The bridges and canals of Venice are surrounded by sets that look like they belong more in children’s fantasy than a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film. While the acting and dancing does not suffer, this brings the film down from what it could be.

The old saying about the two stars, “He made her classy, while she made him sexy,” applies to this film. Rogers brings the voice and very good dance skills, while Astaire plays the reserved lover who steals the show with his dancing. The entertainment value is very high and the dancing excellent – but do not expect a particularly developed plot.