• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:October 11, 2020

Top Hat: Getting Caught in the Rain


There was a time in the mid-30s when director Mark Sandrich and the star combo of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers simply owned the genre of musicals. They delivered the best movies, the grandest entertainment. And none of their collaborations were greater than Top Hat. Only Mutiny on the Bounty made more money in 1935, but one could argue that Top Hat remains the best loved of the two. Less flashy than the Technicolor extravaganzas of the 1950s, the film nevertheless oozes with star charisma.

Headlining a show in London
The story is simple and hardly believable, but why quibble? It begins in London where American dancer Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) has arrived to headline a show produced by Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton). Jerry can’t help but burst into spontaneous tap dance now and then and does so in his hotel room one night, accidentally waking up Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers) in the room downstairs. She gets up and lets him know what he’s done; Jerry finds this woman utterly charming and spends the following days pursuing her. Eventually she falls for him, but quickly cools when she mistakes Jerry for being Horace. Dale doesn’t feel like fooling around with a married man and thinks his behavior is rather scandalous; Jerry on the other hand can’t figure out why she’s suddenly so hostile to him.

The plot subsequently moves to Venice where Dale goes to model the gowns of a famed Italian designer and see her good friend Madge (Helen Broderick) who’s married to Horace. She tells Madge that she’s met her husband and doesn’t approve of his attempts to woo her, but Madge finds it hard to believe Dale. After the successful opening of the London show, Jerry also goes to Venice along with Horace and misunderstandings continue to complicate the relationships.

Keeping things as amusing as possible
I know, it’s a ridiculous story where something always happens to confuse matters further. It is undeniably part of the fun. The cast members do their darndest to keep things as amusing as possible. Horton and Eric Blore are funny as the producer and his valet who spend so much time bickering over silly things one could mistake them for a married couple; Broderick is also great as Madge who never loses her cool and goes on treating her husband like a child who can’t take care of himself.

And then there’s Fred and Ginger. They had met on screen several times before in the past few years, but Top Hat was the first film that was written specifically for them. They also do more dance numbers together than what was usual. A funny thing happens whenever Astaire and Rogers have one of those scenes together. It’s like time stops and you become fascinated with the way these two people move on a stage. The beauty of it, the technique, the sense of humor, the class… it all comes together in harmony, and this film also has the benefit of an impressive array of Irving Berlin songs, most of which have become true classics.

I am particularly fond of the scene in the park where they dance in a pavilion to “Isn’t This a Lovely Day to Be Caught in the Rain”. In all its simplicity, it is actually a scene I find far more satisfying than the grand number accompanying “Piccolino” in Venice. The fact that the Italian city has rarely looked so fake on film doesn’t help; no one could confuse the real thing with this studio-bound setting.

This film, with Fred in his tuxedo and top hat and Ginger in her gown, has pretty much shaped our image of the couple. The timeless quality of their work is what will seduce even an audience today. 

Top Hat 1935-U.S. 99 min. B/W. Produced by Pandro S. Berman. Directed by Mark Sandrich. Screenplay: Allan Scott, Dwight Taylor. Play: Alexander Faragó, Aladar Laszlo. Songs: Irving Berlin (”Cheek to Cheek”, ”Isn’t This a Lovely Day to Be Caught in the Rain”, ”Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails”, “Piccolino”). Cast: Fred Astaire (Jerry Travers), Ginger Rogers (Dale Tremont), Edward Everett Horton (Horace Hardwick), Helen Broderick, Eric Blore, Erik Rhodes… Lucille Ball.

Trivia: Benito Mussolini was reportedly so upset over the Italian stereotype played by Rhodes that he had the film banned in Italy.

Last word: “Although I remained filled with serious intent, I couldn’t interest anyone in subjects I wanted to do. Whereupon Mark Sandrich reappeared with the first draft of the script of ‘Top Hat’. It was written by Dwight Taylor, who was the son of Laurette Taylor and the stepson of Hartley Manners, a prolific playwright in the early part of this century. Dwight had also written ‘Gay Divorce’, which was a revised version of one of Hartley Manners’s plays. Mark said, ‘Read it [‘Top Hat’], and let’s have some fun.’ I read it, liked it, rewrote it completely, and then Mark and I polished it together. He knew exactly what he wanted; and gradually I learned construction and wrote the scenes.” (Scott, “Backstory: Interview with Screenwriters of Hollywood’s Golden Age”)



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