Top Hat ★★★★½

Fred Astaire's character is a cad if there ever was one, his behavior surprisingly creepy and unsettling in the first act if not thereafter; and the musical numbers are a bit more repetitive than those in Swing Time (though stronger on average). But unusually for such a stylish, impeccably designed monument in the Hollywood musical genre, this has a terrific screwball-inspired premise and an astonishing number of jokes that really land, thanks not only to Astaire and Rogers' mind-boggling eclecticism (their musical and physical prowess combined with their nearly flawless sense of timing and undeniable sexual chemistry) but also to a clever and unstoppably witty script and the note-perfect supporting cast. Both Edward Everett Horton and Helen Broderick take on roles that would be quickly forgotten in a lesser film, and Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore both flesh out one-dimensional parts, rendering them idiosyncratic and hilarious. With Broderick in particular, just as in Swing Time I find myself wanting to stop the movie and go hang out with her... and in this film she's also permitted to be quite sexy, which I think is splendid for a "cynical married woman" character in a film of any vintage, especially one from the '30s. So does it really matter that the whole movie starts with a jerkoff who won't let a woman mind her own fucking business? It sure plays differently with Astaire than it would with, like, Ryan Gosling; and far differently in 1935 than it would in 2017... but nevertheless, I can deal if that's what we have to go through to get to such delightful comic confusions as the sequence in which Madge seems to Dale to be encouraging a public act of rhythmic polyamory, or Alberto Beddini's almost dadaist death threat to Horace. And notice I've not even mentioned the reason you'll want to watch this, Astaire's choreography of the exceptional Irving Berlin numbers; they get bigger and more bombastic as the film goes on, but they never improve on the magical "Isn't This a Lovely Day," imitated by probably every film musical made since, but never by two people who could so easily slip into what seems like the communication of inexpressible emotional and biological need through the way they dance together. That the song sequences only come to my mind to talk about last says a lot about how strong this film's non-musical elements are, which is quite the rarity-- I wish this film had been part of my life long ago.

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