Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fred Astaire (X 3) Tomorrow on TCM

Turner Classic Movies knows the key to my heart. Lots and lots of Fred Astaire!

As part of a slate of musicals airing between all day (and moving chronologically from 1939 to 1957), TCM will be offering three fairly unusual Astaire choices.

Ziegfeld Follies is up first, beginning at 6:45 am Central time. It's a 1946 MGM extravaganza starring William Powell as impresario Florenz Ziegfeld. The framing device is Mr. Z, up in heaven, thinking back on his career as the master of the lavish musical revue and imagining a new show starring a parade of Hollywood stars. In the comic sketches and musical numbers that follow, we see the likes of Lena Horne, Judy Garland, Esther Williams, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball and Fanny Brice. Oh, and Fred Astaire. Fred introduces a bevy of beauties with "Here's to the Girls," and dances twice with Lucille Bremer, an MGM starlet at the time. He also dances with Gene Kelly. Yep. The two biggest dancing stars ever. It's the only time Astaire and Kelly were paired on film until they hosted That's Entertainment II in 1976. The comedy bits are pretty creaky (and I never did really appreciate either Skelton or Victor Moore, who shows up, as well) but Astaire is a gem throughout.

The next Astaire film offered -- The Belle of New York -- begins at noon. Fred is a turn-of-the-century swain, smitten with a straitlaced temperance worker played by Vera-Ellen. He knows he's in love because he starts walking on air. Seriously. It's that fantasy element (all the air-walking) that made Belle of New York a bit of an oddity and maybe accounts for its lack of popularity. Whatever the reason it didn't connect back in 1952, Belle of New York is worth a look now, if for no other reason than it is so rarely broadcast.

And the last Fred flick of the day is also the last of the TCM musicals o' the day, airing at 3:30 pm. It's Silk Stockings, a Cold War remake of Ninotchka that pairs Fred with the beautiful Cyd Charisse. He's an American film producer, while she's a chilly Soviet agent sent to Paris to get a Russian composer out of Fred's decadent capitalist clutches. But of course, he defrosts Comrade Ninotchka, introducing her to the pleasures of fancy lingerie, champagne and dancing the night away. Along the way, three cultural commisars (Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin and Joseph Buloff) sing about cheery, eerie "Siberia" and how it's "Too Bad, We Can't Go Back to Moscow," in some of the strangest songs Cole Porter ever wrote.

None of these three are among my favorite Astaire movies, but, as I always say, any Fred is better than no Fred.


  1. Wow, hooray for TCM, catering to the cinephile by airing the least-seen titles in a category. I remember back when we were first getting to know each other, you said you had seen all of Fred's movie musicals except "Belle of New York" -- do I remember right? I have yet to see that one myself. (It's not the only one; I'm missing "Yolanda and the Thief" and the one with Betty Horrible Cretin Hutton.

    I've seen "Silk Stockings." and had so drastically lowered my expectations after all I'd read about it that it came as a rather pleasant surprise. Charisse seems less wooden an actress than usual, or maybe it's that the part allows for her to be severe; which is good because she gets less chance to dance than usual. But when she does, of course she's divine.

    I actually have the "Ziegfeld Follies" DVD as part of one of those MGM-musical 5-packs that had some other things I wanted. It's very uneven, isn't it? Lena Horne actually is the high point for me. When I think about Fred's great career moments, none of them would be from this (not his fault), except for "The Babbitt and the Bromide," which is a delight.

  2. Of the three movies, I would always go for "Silk Stockings" before the other two. The tone of "Belle of New York" is just so artificial and weird, and the comedy sections of "Ziegfeld Follies" are painful. Plus Fred dressed as a Chinese person is odd, too, in his Limehouse Blues piece with Lucille Bremer. Honestly, I don't enjoy Babbitt and the Bromide all that much. I don't think their styles mesh very well for a duet.

    But I love the crazy Russians (especially Peter Lorre) and I think Cyd and Fred match up pretty well. Yes, she's chilly, but, as you said, it fits the role. And it seems to suit Fred. But... I can't handle Janis Paige or her Stereophonic Sound. Those brassy 50s chicks with their blasty vocals never thrill me.