Roberta (1935) Directed by William A. Seiter, music by Jerome Kern. Irene Dunne, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Randolph Scott. (104 min.)
I love this Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie. It's really funny! Fred Astaire comes with a band and finds out that there was a misunderstanding and no job, so he tries to find a friend of his who lives in Paris (that's where they are). Randolph Scott says he has an aunt who lives in Paris who's rich and famous, Roberta.
Fred Astaire finds his friend, Ginger Rogers, who has taken a French accent and a title. Ginger Rogers and Randolph Scott find his aunt and when she dies, end up getting the dressmaking business without knowing anything about dresses. The cast also includes Irene Dunne. Ginger Rogers sings a song "I'll Be Hard to Handle" with a terribly silly French accent.
The dresses are superb, as "Roberta" designs them. But, there are plenty of bathroom breaks as Irene Dunne sings lots of slow songs like "You're lovely to look at, delightful to hold and heaven to kiss, a combination like this..." boring! "Let's Begin" is a song Fred Astaire sings and dances with the band. One of the guys he sings it with puts on a wig and a really high voice and tries to imitate Fred's dancing. Over all, it's really hilarious.
One of my favorite parts is when Ginger Rogers is telling Irene Dunne "Non, non, non, non, non, non!" and starts screaming in a French and American mix. And when she is talking to Fred Astaire in a French accent and he knows her and keeps saying things to remind her about when they lived next door to each other. This movie is fiendishly funny and French.
Note on the costumes by moviediva: Bernard Newman was a New York couture designer, the head of the custom salon at Bergdorf Goodman. He had done gowns for Irene Dunne's personal wardrobe, and she suggested him to RKO as a designer who could do truly chic gowns for Roberta. But, he was unhappy designing for the movies; he did nearly 20 films in two years, and left in 1936 to resume his career at Bergdorf's.
The gowns in Roberta cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars, a lot of money during the Depression. Each outfit in the fashion show had a carefully coordinated hosiery shade and sheerness. The full length silver fox wrap cost $19,000, and Irene Dunne's jewelled tiara, which she wears as she sings "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" (which I'm sure moviediva, jr. would describe as a "bathroom break") cost $6000; the gems were real. Be sure and look for a very young Lucille Ball as one of the fashion show models (think feathers). All in all, Ginger Rogers' day ensembles are my favorites, especially that crazy coat outfit with the buttons down the back; the coat seems to be held together by the cowl neckline, the front flares open to show the dress. But, what was with that black rubbery looking dress with the big pussycat bow that Irene Dunne wears to work? She looks like Maggie Cheung in Irma Vep.
Costume test; the skirt was quite a bit shorter by the time the film reached the screen.
Lucille Ball as a blonde
Fred and Ginger are often remembered for the big ballroom showpieces they danced, but their more "throw-away" numbers are a lot more fun. Part of the reason is that they were done without playback; meaning it appears (at least to me) that the singing and dancing are recorded live, for a fizzy spontenaiety. Dancing "Hard to Handle," there's a split second of delighted laughter, as if they really were having a good time. James Agee called Astaire the Mozart of tap dancers. Astaire's taps recorded live bring his genius almost within the realm of the possible in a way his dance on the ceiling in Royal Wedding never can. They're both wonderful, but one's done by a man and one's done by a movie star.
(Drawing by moviediva, jr. Photo from Daniel Blum's A Pictorial History of the Talkies, Costume photos from Hollywood Costume Design by David Chierichetti, sheet music from collection of moviediva, jr).