Shall We Dance

ShallWeDanceI’m a big fan of Fred and Ginger pictures.

They’ve got a formula and supporting cast that just works.  The songs often are the stuff of legend.  And the dancing…!  As the character John Coffey said in The Green Mile (1999) as he watched Fred and Ginger dancing cheek to cheek, “Why they’s angels – angels just like up in Heaven.”

But not this time…

In Shall We Dance (1937), the formula appears to be getting a little stale, the dancing wasn’t up to par, and the songs were uneven.

Granted, Gershwin classics such as “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “They Can’t Take that Away from Me,” and the title song, “Shall We Dance” are first-rate; however, I’ve heard them done better elsewhere.  And even in the movie, “Slap That Bass” sounded a lot better while Dudley Dickerson was singing it; when Fred took over, it sound bland by comparison.  (The scene itself, though, was very cool.)

The choreography seemed to be less inspired than in other films as well.  The execution of each routine was, as expected, flawless; however, I would have liked the routines themselves to have had more personality.  And unlike other films that feature a show-stopping bit of dancing magic (who could ever forget the famous ceiling dance from Royal Wedding [1951]?), this one keeps it ordinary (the roller skate routine, while I imagine very difficult to pull off, doesn’t count as movie magic).  And there’s a sequence in which one of the dancers bends herself over backwards that, frankly, kinda creeped me out

Even the legendary Edward Everett Horton (who you may also know from his “Fractured Fairy Tale” narration on The Bullwinkle Show) and Eric Blore reprise, if not their spot-on perfect characters from other films, then at least their character types – and fall short of their past glories.  In fact, none of the characters were especially notable.  One of the most charming, endearing traits of other Fred and Ginger classics such as Top Hat (1935), is that the characters – the stars as well as the supporting cast – are all so darn likable.  Not so here.  For me it’s that likability that makes me root for Fred and Ginger to overcome the formulaic odds against them and find true happiness together.  In this one, I really didn’t care…

I know that for some of you, I’ve likely just committed a crime with this review.  But for me, this film’s 109 minutes seemed to go on for days.  I’m still a big Fred and Ginger fan; however, in the case of this film I’d prefer to call the whole thing off…


Two days after posting this review I watched The Barkleys of Broadway (1949).  Even though Fred and Ginger were a round dozen years older than the were when they made Shall We Dance, they seemed much fresher and more alive in their roles.  Perhaps it was the long absence from working together?  I don’t know.  I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed this film.  It struck me as a positive shot-in-the arm for the two.  And that “shoes with wings” routine, with Fred making it really look as though his tap shoes had a mind of their own, was pure, unadulterated movie magic!

Kinda restores one’s faith in humanity…

2 thoughts on “Shall We Dance

  1. There’s a lot of missed opportunities in “Shall We Dance.” Having them not dance to “They Can’t Take That Away Away From Me” is pretty irresponsible. It also takes a long time for them to do their first dance together – “They All Laughed” – and the film runs on too long for its own good. But I still like it, though it is probably in the lower five of the 10 movies they made together. It’s not as witty as some of the others, and the screenplay strains genuine credibility.

    Oddly, “Barkleys of Broadway” may be my least favorite of their films together (not helped by the horrid DVD transfer given us. Just compare scenes from the original theatrical trailer to the movie and you see what I mean). But Ginger is pretty unappealing here, and her Sarah Bernhardt impression is one of the low points in her career. I’m glad they finally got to dance to the aforementioned Gershwin classic, but the movie is pretty devoid of wit or style.

  2. You’re right – the DVD transfer was bad to the point of being a little distracting – kind of like the first runs of “The Quiet Man”. I think I liked it better somewhat because they tweaked the formula and cast; it gave me different expectations. And I really liked that “shoes with wings” routine! (Not to mention, Ginger gets to appear in all of her strawberry-blonde glory…) I’ll still take “Top Hat” or “Swing Time” any day, though!

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