Swing Time (1936)

swing time poster 1936 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Good dance numbers and classic chemistry between Astaire and Rogers

Blackface number is problematic but one of the better dances

Movie Info

Movie Name: Swing Time

Studio: RKO Radio Pictures

Genre(s): Musical/Romance/Comedy

Release Date(s):  August 27, 1936 (Premiere)/September 4, 1936 (US)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

swing time fred astaire ginger rogers dance

I feel like we’ve done this dance before, guy

Dancer John “Lucky” Garnett (Fred Astaire) has decided to give up dancing and get married to a small town girl named Margaret (Betty Furness).  When he misses the wedding, Lucky vows to prove himself and heads go to New York City to gamble his way to the top and bring home $25,000 to present to his future family.  Joined by “Pop” Cardetti (Victor Moore), Lucky discovers the challenges of the city immediately and meets a dance instructor named Penny (Ginger Rogers).  With a shot at the big time, Lucky returns to dance but finds contempt from Penny’s boyfriend Ricardo Romero (Georges Metaxa).  As Lucky tries to early his money, he finds himself falling for Penny…and the goal of getting $25,000 might force him away.

Directed by George Stevens, Swing Time is a musical dance film.  The movie was released to positive reviews and a successful box office.  It won an Academy Award for Best Original Song (“The Way You Look Tonight”) and a nomination for Best Dance Direction (“Bojangles of Harlem”).  It was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2004, and the Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #979).

swing time fred astaire ginger rogers

How can us two kids ever get together?!?!

You grow up hearing about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance films, but I don’t know that I had ever actually seen one until Swing TimeSwing Time was near the end of their legendary film career, but the two still glided on the screen.  It is a nice musical with a typical rom-com style plot.

The story is obvious.  Lucky is out to win big to get the girl he planned to marry and “shocker”, he meets Ginger Rogers who he has an instant connection with.  Rogers (like many romances) doesn’t like Lucky at first but he wins her over through dance and his distant nature to her.  The characters of course have to contend with the rival loves and as you expect, it all turns out ok.

Rogers and Astaire have the chemistry that made them famous.  Their knowledge of each other’s dance also carries over to the dialogue which feels natural and flows between them.  Victor Moore kind of got on my nerves as the comic relief but I did enjoy his partner in Helen Broderick.  The movie does build up the Georges Metaxa rivalry but then kind of crumbles on it in the end which feels a bit unnatural and unresolved.

swing time fred astaire blackface bojangle of harlem dance

…and now we’ve reached the awkward blackface portion of the movie

The movie is visually appealing but it does run into a problem that faces a lot of films from this period.  Astaire gives a performance called “Bojangles of Harlem” in a modified version of blackface.  Unlike many musicals of this type which has the really offensive stereotypical blackface make-up, Astaire just colors his skin.  While this too is offensive, many scholars have pointed out that the dance is one of the best dances of the film (it does a lot of unique visuals) and it comes off more as a homage to Astaire’s dance mentor John Bubbles (which the audience would have been familiar with at the time).  It still has that screeching halt moment when it starts, but it is a good start for a discussion piece.

Swing Time is a solid dance picture if you are into dance pictures.  It is a nice romance and rather typical in that sense.  With legendary presence, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire are classics of American cinema and if you have never seen one of their pictures (like me), Swing Time is a solid launching point.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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