Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in Top Hat

Top Hat Top Musical

Having not been born till the second half of the 20th century I can only assume that audiences enjoyed Fred and Ginger in "The Gay Divorcee" so much that the studio decided to try and recapture the magic with another musical about mistaken identity. That musical was "Top Hat" which not only featured Fred and Ginger but also Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes as well as Eric Blore who had all been in "The Gay Divorcee". But "Top Hat" is not just a rehash of "The Gay Divorcee" it may once again revolve around mistaken identity and confusion but it is different. It is also for many Fred & Ginger's best movie together and to be honest I am one of those who thinks so as the balance between story, comedy plus of course song and dance is just perfect allowing Fred and Ginger to entertain on all levels without it ever feeling one sided.

Having arrived in London to be part of producer Horace Hardwick's (Edward Everett Horton) show, song and dance man Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire - Flying Down to Rio) finds himself confronted by Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers - Monkey Business), an attractive blond, when his dancing in Horace's apartment wakes her up in the room below. Immediately smitten by the attractive Dale, Jerry does all he can to woo her, that is until in a case of mistaken identity she thinks he is Horace who just happens to be the husband of her friend Madge (Helen Broderick) who just happens to have invited Horace, Jerry and Dale for a weekend in Italy with the intention of match making Dale and Jerry.

Ginger Rogers as Dale Tremont in Top Hat

To be blunt "Top Hat" has a weak storyline, a slim storyline which is really just there as a vehicle for the mix of comedy and musical scenes. You can sum it up quite simply as a case of mistaken identity leading to confusion as Dale meets Jerry after being woken up by his dancing only to think he is Horace the husband of her friend Madge who in fact is planning on trying to match make Dale and Jerry. There is little more to it than that and so things basically spiral out of control as Dale is convinced Jerry is a love rat and ends up in the arms of her friend and dress maker Alberto Beddini. All of which gets to the point that suddenly someone realises that mistaken identity has lead to confusion leading to both Jerry and Horace, who are friends, ending up being hit for being cheats. In a way the best part of the storyline mirrors "The Gay Divorcee" when Eric Blore who plays Horace's Butler Bates has a surprise revelation which makes everything alright in the end.

But the storyline to "Top Hat" was never designed to be anything more than a vehicle to deliver comedy, romance and of course song & dance and it does an adequate job. What makes "Top Hat" stand out from other Fred & Ginger movies and to be honest many musicals in general is that it gets the balance right. Everything be it the comedy or a musical scene feeds off of the story, having a purpose other than being thrown in because someone liked a song or dance so much. And director Mark Sandrich shows restraint when it comes to those musical scenes allowing us to be wowed by the beautiful dancing of Fred & Ginger whilst enjoying the Irving Berlin music but never allowing it to drag on into the realms of being self indulgent. Even the big show numbers which do go on a bit longer that the earlier musical interludes still end before they become boring.

Of course what brings this all together is Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, there maybe Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes as well as Eric Blore providing plenty of light relief but it is Fred & Ginger who are the stars. I never stop being impressed by Fred Astaire because not only was he the most amazing dancer he also had such a natural comic ability, a mannerism which just made you smile and often incorporated into a dance routine. You could say that his character Jerry Travers isn't that different to other roles he played but do you know what it doesn't matter because he was such a delight to watch. And Ginger Rogers is just as delightful to watch be it when she throws a comical look towards the camera or in one of the amazing dances she does with Fred. Some say that Ginger was always playing catch up to Fred when it came to the dancing but in "Top Hat" she is easily his equal.

What this all boils down to is that "Top Hat" is a wonderful musical and for me Fred and Ginger's best movie together. You just get whisked away watching Fred and Ginger dance together but you also can't but help smile, often laugh when they explore the comedy of the slim story. But what helps "Top Hat" to be such a good movie is that the balance is right, the slim story feeds the comedy and musical moments and nothing goes on too long.