Ginge Binge: Dancing Her Way Through The 1930's

Saturday, July 21, 2018

For more on what exactly this Ginge Binge is, read my first post here.

With the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code in full swing, we move on to 1935 and beyond. As I write this, I've rewatched Ginger's entire filmography from the years 1935 through 1939, in which she completed a total of 15 pictures. Of those 15 pictures, 7 of them were musicals with Fred Astaire. That's a lot of dancing!

Romance in Manhattan was Ginger's first film released in 1935, in which she starred with European actor Francis Lederer. What immediately draws me into Ginger's character is an element we saw only once before in Sitting Pretty (1933), and that is the role of the older sister. She is protective of her younger brother, played by Jimmy Butler, and does everything she can to see that he remains under her care rather than being sent to an institution for missing school. I appreciate Ginger in these roles because we get to see how she illustrates that motherly instinct.

Ginger with Jimmy Butler in Romance in Manhattan

Among her works released in 1935, two more are especially notable: Top Hat and In Person. Top Hat marked the fourth installment of the Astaire-Rogers musicals, and became one of the most well known. The film features a stellar cast of character actors including Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes, Helen Broderick, and Eric Blore. Those who have read Ginger's autobiography will immediately think of that infamous ostrich feather dress shown in the "Cheek to Cheek" number.

I also mention In Person because it is the first film in which Ginger receives star billing. In it, she proves that she can hold her own in a romantic musical comedy. She has a handful of solo numbers, including an incredibly charming and whimsical tap routine, and her character finds herself in numerous amusing predicaments. You'll also witness her in disguise wearing a dark wig, glasses, and false teeth, and that is reason enough to seek out this delightful film. She steals the show, and if you listen closely you'll even catch the tune "Lovely To Look At" as heard in Roberta, released the same year.

Ginger in In Person (1935)

In her musicals with Fred during the 1930's, Ginger's characters were often the ones rejecting a persistent Fred. The couple's on-screen chemistry is playful, endearing, and their routines simply magical. They dance not just with their feet, but through dialogue and chasing after one another in their own ways.

Two films that follow are Stage Door (1937) and Vivacious Lady (1938). At this point, Ginger had made well over a dozen films at RKO and was quickly approaching the height of her on-screen success. In both Stage Door and Vivacious Lady, she portrays shockingly similar characters in terms of quick wit and competitive nature. One has her up against respected contemporary Katharine Hepburn, and the other has her stealing the heart of the beloved Jimmy Stewart, but not without a fight.

Ginger in Stage Door (1937)

In Carefree (1938), Astaire-Rogers musical number eight, we see a theme that will be repeated a few times later on in Ginger's films: dream sequences. More specifically, dream sequences that aim to provide her with the tools to make up her mind about a major real life decision.

Her partnership with Fred ends, at least for the next ten years, in 1939 with the release of The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. Ironically, this is the first Fred and Ginger film I ever saw, and if you've seen it too, you can imagine my shock at the time. After this, she dives right into her last two films of the 1930's, which are Bachelor Mother (another significant one for that motherly instinct) and Fifth Avenue Girl.

The second half of the 1930's brought us the light haired, tap dancing, extravagant gown-wearing Ginger that we are all most familiar with today, and the 1940's would mark the end of an era and the birth of a new image and a deeper character development. In the next post, I'll dive into the decade that brought her the Academy Award.

Ginger in Roberta (1935)

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