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Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire

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Page 7

SHALL WE DANCE (1937)

Foot-free Fred and joyous Ginger...in their gayest, gladdest show!

  • Studio: RKO
  • Director: Mark Sandrich
  • Choreographer: Hermes Pan, Harry Losee
  • Music by: George and Ira Gershwin
  • Cast including: Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore, Jerome Cowan, Ketti Gallian, William Brisbane, Harriet Hoctor.
  • Musical Numbers including: 
    • "Slap That Bass" sung by Mantan Moreland, Fred and chorus, danced by Fred;
    • "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" sung and danced (on roller skates) by Ginger and Fred; 
    • "They Can't Take that Away From Me" sung by Fred; 
    • "They All Laughed" sung by Ginger, danced by Ginger and Fred; 
    • "I've Got Beginner's Luck" sung by Fred; 
    • "Walking the Dog" (instrumental); 
    • "Shall We Dance" sung by Fred, danced by Ginger, Fred, Harriet Hoctor and chorus.
  • Music Clips: 
    • click here"They Can't Take That Away From Me" (clip) (a .WAV file courtesy Rhino Records)
  • Lyrics: 

SHALL WE DANCE (1937) doesn't quite have the charm that SWING TIME does, but it comes close.  The Gershwin songs and fun plot are there this time, but unfortunately, the dancing doesn't quite live up to a few of the film's predecessors.  Or maybe I just don't appreciate ballet enough.  Anyway, Fred plays an American dancer named Pete Peters who has made his way in Paris by posing as a Russian ballet star named Petrov.  He falls in love with fellow Yankee (although she's "from the South") Linda Keene (Ginger) after seeing her picture dance along in a "flip book."  "I haven't even met her," he tells his manager (played by Edward Everett Horton again), "but I'd kinda like to marry her... I think I will."  She's a burned-out musical comedy star about to quit show business because she wants to get married -- and just about anyone will do, except this crazy Petrov character.  She boards the Queen Anne for New York where she has arranged to marry a former beau, and Pete boards along with her, hoping for another chance.

Pete's manager, Jeffrey, of course wants to keep him out of girl trouble and does his best to discourage Pete's fancies.  Linda's manager, Arthur (played by Jerome Cowan), just wants to keep her in show business and thus out of marriage.  When Jeffrey makes up a story about Petrov being secretly married to Linda in order to keep another woman out of his hair, Arthur has a field day keeping the rumor alive in order to discourage the beau Linda plans to marry.  Despite Linda's best efforts to kill the rumor, by the time she reaches New York, the whole world is in on the "secret marriage" and the reporters can't get enough.  "You know, we're the only two people in the world who don't think we're married," Pete tells her during an incognito outing in Central Park.  "We don't think we're not. We know we're not," she counters.  "Except me. I'm beginning to have my doubts," Pete sheepishly quips.

Ordeals on Wheels: Fred and Ginger kick up their roller skate-laden heels in "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off."

This outing in the park is the setting for one of the film's most memorable dance numbers, the Gershwin's "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off."  Lyrically speaking, Fred gets the best verse, as Ira seems to have run out of good eether/eyether parallels by the time Ginger gets to sing.  But it's not actually the song itself that's so noteworthy -- it's the dance on roller skates that follows.  Sure they hold back a little so as not to fall down, but overall they project a sense of really enjoying themselves as they twirl, swirl and tap on wheels.  It's a fun number and definitely a Rogers-Astaire novelty.

The plot gets outrageously confusing when Pete and Linda decide to really get married so they can get a very public divorce and convince everyone once and for all that they're not really together.  But despite the worn out antics of Horton and Eric Blore which fail to be funny in this one, plot-wise things sail along pretty smoothly for a change, making this film a treat overall.  The song list is especially gifted, with soon-to-be standards like "They Can't Take That Away From Me" (click here) which earned an Oscar nomination, as well as "Slap that Bass" and Ginger's solo "They All Laughed."  Too much ballet and Harriet Hoctor (who almost looks like a circus freak, tottering around the stage on point and in a backbend) take away from the dance excitement of the film however -- with one further exception (besides the roller skating) being Ginger and Fred's dance to the reprise of "They All Laughed," which does a better job than the others of combining Broadway and ballet.  The finale landing on the white piano is a nice touch too. 

Oddly enough, the strong song list in SHALL WE DANCE makes it the best showcase in the series of one of Ginger's particular talents -- not her ability to sing, but her ability to be sung to.  Of all the partners Fred had over the course of his film career, none ever reacted to his love songs as well as Ginger.  During both the "I've Got Beginner's Luck" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me" (click here) numbers sung by Fred, Ginger manages to express her character's mixed emotions (both the pleasure and slight embarrassment of being sung to) while at the same time responding phrase by phrase to the lyrics, as if hearing them for the first time.  It's a minor point, but again, one that contributes significantly to the chemistry that makes these films work.

Overall, I'd rate SHALL WE DANCE as the fifth best of the series and probably my fifth favorite. It doesn't have the farcical comedy of some of the others, but the plot moves much better than most, and the songs are a joy even if the dancing isn't always what it might have been.

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Last updated: December 16, 2008.
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