Movie Review

Swing Time

A glorious songburst of gaiety and laughter!
Swing Time Movie Poster

US Release Date: 08-27-1936

Directed by: George Stevens


  • Fred Astaire
  • Lucky Garnett
  • Ginger Rogers
  • Penny Carroll
  • Victor Moore
  • Pop Cardetti
  • Helen Broderick
  • Mabel Anderson
  • Eric Blore
  • Gordon
  • Betty Furness
  • Margaret Watson
  • Georges Metaxa
  • Ricky Romero
Reviewed on: April 4th, 2014
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Swing Time.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Swing Time.

Swing Time is a sublime musical masterpiece saddled with an extremely silly plot. Fred & Ginger perform four of the most exquisite dance numbers from any of their ten movies together, including “Never Gonna Dance” which is often singled out as their absolute peak moment of graceful elegance set to music. Ginger can't match Fred's fluid precision but she more than makes up for it with eager insouciance. The legendary score is by composer Jerome Kern and lyricist Dorothy Fields and boasts such timeless gems as “A Fine Romance”, “Pick Yourself Up” and the Oscar winning “The Way You Look Tonight”.

Fred's a hoofer with a gambling problem. When he shows up too late for his own wedding his would-be father-in-law banishes him to the city until he raises 25,000 bucks. The entire plot hinges on this flimsy premise. He and Rogers share their usual meet-cute moment. This one involves a quarter and a cop, and takes place on the street. With the talents of Astaire and Rogers' regulars Helen Broderick and Eric Blore the story remains effervescent enough that it manages to stay out of the main attraction's way.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, in tuxedo and evening gown, sweeping majestically across a stage or a ballroom floor is one of the most iconic images in film, and I hope always will be. One thing that sets them apart is their magical ability to make such a wide variety of styles and tempos appear so effortless. The exuberant “Pick Yourself Up” is a great example of this innovative versatility. It begins as a simple polka but quickly turns into a show stopping combination of brilliant tap dancing to a syncopated rhythm.

One minor blemish on its art deco complexion is the inclusion of the one and only Fred Astaire number done in blackface. He performs a song called "Bojangles of Harlem" sans Ginger. Compared to some minstrel performances from the era he uses a somewhat subtler shade of face paint, and he pays tribute to several African-American dancers such as Bill Robinson and John W. Bubbles in a respectful manner. But no matter how you slice it it's still degrading and ignorant and uncomfortable to watch.

A forgettable plot and one error in judgment aren't enough to seriously mar this cinematic work of art. It is Fred & Ginger doing what they did better than any other couple in the history of the medium. According to Hollywood lore Fred wasn't satisfied until the 47th take of “Never Gonna Dance”. By this time Ginger's feet were bleeding, although you'd never know it from watching the picture.

Related Review