Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, August 9, 2018


Ginger Rogers, Oscar Levant, Fred Astaire
THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY (1949). Director: Charles Walters.

Josh and Dinah Barkley (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) have been a top team on Broadway for several years, but all is not rosy in their lives backstage. Secretly Dinah is a bit tired of her husband's Svengali-like attitude and his criticisms, as well as the feeling he has that he "made" her. When a very handsome playwright named Jacques Barredout (Jacques Francois) insists that Dinah has great and untapped dramatic talent, she decides to try her hand at playing Sarah Bernhardt in his new play. Will she fall on her face, and how will Josh feel if she does? Barkleys presents Astaire and Rogers in absolute top form, and this is one of their most winning movies. As their friend and collaborator, Oscar Levant [The Cobweb] offers one of his better performances, although the device of pairing him off with one beautiful woman after another becomes tiresome. Levant was an oddity -- he couldn't sing or dance, and certainly wasn't good-looking -- but his sardonic delivery often works, and he is allowed to play the piano on excerpts from two pieces, Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" and Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto No. 1." If Barkleys falls down in one respect it's that the new songs by Harry Warren and Ira Gershwin aren't up to the standard set by Ira and George Gershwin -- the only melodic bright spot is Gershwin's old tune "They Can't Take That Away from Me." Astaire's smooth elegant dancing is much on display, especially in a number when he trips the light fantastic with dozens of pairs of animated dancing shoes. The supporting cast includes Billie Burke [Three Husbands], who is wasted as a talkative patroness of the arts; Hans Conreid [Juke Box Rhythm] as an avant garde artist who draws Dinah as if she were a pancake (!); and George Zucco, who appears on stage during the Sarah Bernhardt sequence. Clinton Sundberg and Gale Robbins also appear, with Robbins playing Dinah's excitable Southern understudy; she's swell. Jacques Francois is now little-known except for this picture, but he amassed 150 credits, mostly in French productions, and he makes a good impression in this.

I believe this was the last time Astaire and Rogers were teamed in a movie, There was actually a ten year gap between Barkleys and their previous film, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. Lest one wonder if the real Rogers felt like Dinah does in this movie, we must remember that Rogers had already proven her dramatic acting chops in several previous films -- and she won the Best Actress Oscar for Kitty Foyle in 1941 -- so this was not a case of art imitating life.

Verdict: Delightful musical with the inimitable team of Rogers and Astaire. ***. 


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - yes, this was Astaire and Rogers's last pairing. Ginger actually took over the part from Judy Garland, who was suspended from MGM yet again for failing to show up on time. This was to be the Astaire-Garland follow up to the successful Easter Parade, and when Judy was fired, the part was reworked for Ginger and added those great nostalgic touches including "They Can't Take That Away from Me."

Astaire Rogers were indeed a sensational team, making a total of 10 movies together. The other day I watched them in 1935's Roberta...a pure delight.

William said...

Glad to have this info, Chris, I didn't know Garland was supposed to do this film. It would have been interesting but I think Rogers and Astaire were just perfect in this.

Soon I'll be looking at their penultimate team up in "Vernon and Irene Castle"