Taking The "U" Out Of "Mourning": My Favorite Ginger Films

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Ginger and I both turn 24 this year. She in heaven, and I here on Earth. But rather than write a gloomy, sentimental post about a lady I didn't have the the pleasure of meeting, or sit around all day in a sad mood, I would much rather take this day to reflect on the happy stuff: my favorite films from my favorite actress. These pictures have always been an escape for me, and are my go-to's when I am feeling down or yearning for a distraction.

Narrowing down this list was both easy and challenging. A couple films came to mind immediately, but I had a hard time picking and choosing between others. So without further ado and in no specific order, here are my top 5 Ginger films!

The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)

As final installment of the Astaire-Rogers productions, Barkleys provides some elements of the famous partnership that we did not quite see in their previous films. Speaking specifically to Ginger, Dinah Barkley is arguably her best role. I could honestly write an entire essay on why I think this, but that can be saved for another day. She and Fred Astaire have matured as a team, and their conflicts are much more realistic. In Barkleys, we get to witness all of Ginger's versatile acting skills wrapped into one brave little character. Some of her actions are hilariously innocent, such as when she creates an obvious hiding spot behind the curtains in a panic, and some are like a knife to those hearts that are nostalgic to the old musicals, such as when she is adamant that she and Fred are to remain separated, even after that tender "They Can't Take That Away From Me" number. All in all, this colorful musical is nothing short of a gift, the perfect send off from the dancing duo we have loved so dearly for generations.

Lady in the Dark (1944)

Gowns, gowns, and more gowns! The elaborate fashion and fancy set design are just a couple of the components that make Lady in the Dark so unique. While there may have been some tension behind the scenes (director Mitchell Leisen was not the most fun director to work with), Ginger shines in her role as magazine editor Liza Elliott. One of the reasons I am drawn to this movie so much is because I see part of myself in Liza. She has been referred to a psychiatrist, who she is reluctant to see, but whose goal is to help her dig into her past to figure out the causes of her present fears and anxieties. Ginger's vocals in the "Saga of Jenny" number are extraordinary, and we even get a quick sample of her talent for playful voice impressions when she mimics an old woman in the lyric, "...that she would live to be the oldest woman alive." That is easily my favorite portion of the song. I could hear it just typing that!

The Major and the Minor (1942)

This light-hearted film stands out to me among Ginger's entire filmography not just because of its charm, cleverness, and daring plot, but because of one woman with only a few minutes of screen time: Lela Rogers. Lela does not have a large role, but in the short time we see her, she owns it. The scene near the end in which Susan returns home and swaps clothes with her mother despite her outspoken reluctance, ("up to the attic to find your grandfather's horse whip!") is utterly charming. Lela was Ginger's world. She adored her mother immensely, and the two were incredibly close. You can just see it on screen, even though they are portraying fictional characters. And that is a big reason why I love this movie so much. Apart from that, Ginger gets to show off her adorable childlike impersonations, shifting back and forth between her innocent disguise as "Susu," and her normal, adult attitude as Susan. This is a movie that keeps its magic all the way through, and is another one of my cheerful go-to films of Ginger's.

Carefree (1938)

Another Fred and Ginger film! This wild ride is probably the one I devour most frequently. It is easy to watch any of the original nine RKO pictures and immediately be swept into a world of nostalgia and escapism. That is exactly what Carefree does for me. This musical in particular really shines the spotlight on Ginger in a different way than the previous ones. There is of course, the hilarious sequence in which her character, Amanda Cooper, goes on a rampage after being hypnotized, as well as the scene in which Amanda recalls a made up dream about wolves just to remain in the care of Fred's character, psychiatrist Tony Flagg. Much like Liza in Lady int he Dark, I see subtle qualities of myself in Amanda. This combined with the unique songs, namely "The Yam," and beautiful dance routines make this film a hit with me. Ginger looks incredible throughout Carefree, and the gown she wears during "The Yam" visibly dances with her. I have turned to this fun musical many times when I need a good cheering up, or to dissociate from daily life for a bit.

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

There was absolutely no way I could not include a pre-code in my list of favorite Ginger movies. Her big break in films came with 42nd Street (1933), and overall she had roles in 27 feature length pre-code pictures. Gold Diggers of 1933 is the first film that comes to mind when I think of Ginger in the early 1930s. The cast is dynamite and the score is phenomenal. This is the film which contains my favorite overture and opening scenes in musical history. Who could forget that close up of Ginger singing in pig Latin? Gold Diggers is one of those films that makes me incredibly proud of Ginger. I watch her alongside contemporaries such as Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, and Aline MacMahon, and I see her life leading up to that point. The ambitious little 14 year old girl dancing her heart out during that Charleston contest in Dallas, her first Broadway show at 18, and her move to Hollywood at 20. By the time she had made this groundbreaking pre-code musical, she had an abundance of professional experience under her belt. Her character, Fay Fortune, is a joy to watch. It is around this time period that we really see Ginger's talent for comedic timing and wisecracks take shape. Gold Diggers of 1933 is a time capsule not only for its decade, but for Ginger's rising star as well.

Of course I couldn't let this post get away without a few honorable mentions. Vivacious Lady, Roxie Hart, Bachelor Mother, Swing Time, Kitty Foyle, Stage Door ... I better stop myself before I name them all. The films I listed throughout this post are the ones I turn to the most when I simply miss Ginger. How it is possible to miss someone you have never met might seem like a silly concept to some, but I know that there are many who understand the feeling. Something in her voice sparks familiarity in me. I find great comfort in studying her life and sharing her story with others. No amount of roses I leave at her resting place, no amount of tweets I post, and no amount of articles I write could ever truly bottle up exactly how I feel about her or how much I'd like to thank her and how greatly she has impacted my life. It is a difficult thing to try to explain, but I don't really think it needs an explanation, it just is. And I don't question it. Thank you for everything, Ginger. We love you!

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