Wednesday, April 30, 2014

1934 - The Gay Divorcee

As I mentioned in the last post, I'm now officially a published author. Well, an e-published author. A handful of reviews from Matt vs. the Academy have made their way into the Take2 Guide to Steven Spielberg. And now, the good people at Take2 Publishing are offering a discount to Matt vs. the Academy readers. So, if you want to read what dozens of bloggers and reviewers have to say about Spielberg movies, you can now get 20% off the regular price by visiting this link and applying the discount code mva2020 during checkout. Enjoy!

Let's take a look now at another contender for 1934's Best Picture prize...

The Gay Divorcee
Mark Sandrich
George Marion Jr., Dorothy Yost and Edward Kaufman
(based on the Broadway musical "Gay Divorce" by Dwight Taylor, Kenneth Webb and Samuel Hoffenstein)
Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Alice Brady, Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore
Academy Awards:
5 nominations
1 win, for Best Song

After an impossibly adorable meet-cute in London, famous dancer Guy Holden (Astaire) is besotted by fellow American Mimi Glossop (Rogers). She, however, is entirely uninterested in him. After a second chance meeting, Mimi, still impervious to Guy's charms, reluctantly accepts his phone number. Excited, Guy waits impatiently by the phone for weeks to no avail.

Meanwhile, Mimi is in the midst of attempting to secure a divorce, employing the services of a somewhat incompetent divorce lawyer Egbert Fitzgerald (Horton), who also happens to be Guy's best friend, unbeknownst to Mimi. On Egbert's advice, Mimi agrees to travel to Brightbourne, a seaside resort where Egbert has hired a guileless Italian (Rhodes) to act as her lover, hoping this will convince Mimi's husband to grant the divorce. Unaware that Mimi is in fact the mysterious woman that Guy hasn't stopped talking about for weeks, Egbert invites Guy along to Brightbourne, causing an inevitable spanner in the works.

Yet another romantic comedy from the not-so-short list of 1934 Best Picture nominees, The Gay Divorcee finds its humour by engaging that classic farcical trope, the misunderstanding. And it does it rather successfully, eliciting some solid laughs from its audience. It is also unashamedly musical. Of course, what else would you expect from Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers? But unlike some of the other films with which it competed for the Academy's top honour, this picture doesn't try to surreptitiously insert gratuitous musical numbers into an otherwise naturalistic style. The Gay Divorcee, by contrast, wears its musical style on its sleeve. There are larger-than-life dance numbers and emotional solos, and people break into song and dance for no particular reason.

Despite its liberal serving of music and choreography, however, many of the songs seem irrelevant to the story. Some, even, are clearly just filler - silly interludes with no other purpose than to entertain. (So, I suppose this film is also guilty of gratuitous musical numbers, after all.) One such culprit is the picture's featured song, The Continental. It may have won the Academy's first ever Best Song award, but from my perspective, the lyrics and melody are a little bland, and considering it's not a particularly well-known song today, it evidently didn't stand the test of time. Thankfully, though, the song is followed by a grand dance sequence that is pure delight.

What is perhaps most disappointing about the film's soundtrack is that only one song from the original Broadway musical made its way to the screen - all the more astonishing when you realise that Cole Porter was the composer and lyricist of the stage version. His classic Night and Day is the sole number that survived the adaptation, and it shines as the most memorable song in the film.

Fred Astaire's agility and charisma are on full display, as you would expect from such a spectacular showman. His tap dancing prowess is especially phenomenal, and his ability to make it appear so easy is simply astounding. He seems amazingly comfortable when he moves, obviously enjoying himself. Together with Ginger Rogers, the couple (pictured) are elegant and graceful, divine to watch. The same cannot be said for their costar Edward Everett Horton. While he is a delightfully funny and amiable actor, his vocal and movement skills leave much to be desired. He seems awkward and uncomfortable in his only song, a silly and superfluous duet with a pre-famous Betty Grable. Paving the way for Rex Harrison, Horton half speaks the lyrics and is often out of time. Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore, both reprising their roles from the Broadway musical, deliver playfully entertaining performances as the clueless Italian would-be lothario and the eager British waiter, respectively.

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