Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Shall We Dance (Mark Sandrich, 1937)
Swing Time (George Stevens, 1936), the songs in Shall We Dance don't grow organically out of the screenplay. They have to be wedged in, like Astaire's number "Slap That Bass," which takes place in the engine room of the ocean liner on which Petrov and Linda are traveling -- one of the oddest of the Big White Sets for which the Astaire-Rogers musicals were famous: It's the cleanest engine room ever seen. The biggest Astaire-Rogers dance duet in the film is "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," which is performed on roller skates in a park when Petrov and Linda try to evade pursuing reporters; it, too, seems designed more to get Astaire and Rogers on skates than to contribute to the plot. On the other hand, there's an obvious missed opportunity for a romantic duet to the Oscar-nominated song "They Can't Take That Away From Me," which Astaire sings to Rogers, but he doesn't follow through by dancing with her. He does dance to a few bars of the song when it's reprised later in the film, but his partner is Harriet Hoctor, a dancer whose specialty was a deep back-bend that she performed while en pointe. There's a sequence in which Hoctor does her thing while dancing backward toward the camera, which she is facing, that's flat-out creepy. Astaire-Rogers film regulars Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore are on hand to do their usual fussbudget routines. Blore's bit in which he tries to tell Horton over the phone that he's been arrested and is at the Susquehanna Street Jail, constantly being interrupted in his attempts to spell "Susquehanna," is the film's funniest moment.