Sunday, December 01, 2013

TCM Star of the Month: Fred Astaire

What better Star of the Month for Turner Classic Movies in December than Fred Astaire?

Astaire's joyous musicals will be shown every Wednesday evening in December, culminating in some of the very best Fred and Ginger movies on Christmas Night.

The series starts on December 4th with "Fred and Ginger, Part One." Half of the legendary dance team's movies will be shown, including their first, FLYING DOWN TO RIO (1933), along with THE GAY DIVORCEE (1934), ROBERTA (1935), FOLLOW THE FLEET (1936), and THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE (1939). Of this group my favorite is probably THE GAY DIVORCEE, with a score including "Night and Day" and "The Continental."

Also shown on December 4th: Fred teamed with Paulette Goddard in SECOND CHORUS (1940) and dancing with Joan Leslie in THE SKY'S THE LIMIT (1943). I particularly recommend THE SKY'S THE LIMIT, an underrated film with a marvelous score which includes "One For My Baby" and "My Shining Hour."

December 11th spotlights the two films apiece in which Fred danced with Rita Hayworth, Cyd Charisse, Vera-Ellen, and Lucille Bremer.

YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942), featuring Rita Hayworth and a Jerome Kern score, is one of my all-time favorite movies; Fred and Rita's dance to "I'm Old Fashioned" is pure silver screen magic.

I'm also partial to THE BAND WAGON (1953) with Cyd Charisse and another of Astaire's most underrated films, YOLANDA AND THE THIEF (1945), costarring Lucille Bremer. YOLANDA's "Coffee Time" is one of Astaire's most brilliant numbers.  YOLANDA and THE BAND WAGON were both directed by Vincente Minnelli.

I also love his dances with Vera-Ellen in THE BELLE OF NEW YORK (1952), which include "Baby Doll," "Oops," and a lovely Currier & Ives sequence.

On December 18th the schedule includes BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 (1940), featuring that stunning sequence where Fred tap dances with Eleanor Powell on a mirrored floor; the holiday classic EASTER PARADE (1948) with Judy Garland; and two Astaire films set in England, ROYAL WEDDING (1951) and A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS (1937). The latter film includes the debut of "A Foggy Day in London Town."

The evening wraps up overnight with FINIAN'S RAINBOW (1968) and its lilting score.

On Christmas it's time for "Fred and Ginger, Part Two," with TOP HAT (1935), SWING TIME (1936), SHALL WE DANCE (1937), CAREFREE (1938), and THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY (1949).

I'm especially partial to SWING TIME, other than the annoying presence of Victor Moore; its wonderful numbers include "Pick Yourself Up," "Never Gonna Dance," "A Fine Romance," and the Oscar winner "The Way You Look Tonight." The screwball comedy CAREFREE is another particular favorite of mine; Fred and Ginger not only dance, they're funny!

Although it's not officially part of the Star of the Month screenings, there's more Astaire on New Year's Eve, when all three films in the THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! series will be shown, along with THAT'S DANCING! (1985) and MUSICALS GREAT MUSICALS: THE ARTHUR FREED UNIT AT MGM (1996).

For those who might be wondering, Astaire's holiday classic HOLIDAY INN (1942) isn't on the schedule; TCM doesn't license many Paramount films for airing on TCM, though a few do turn up on the schedule. (Another Astaire film for Paramount, BLUE SKIES, has aired on TCM in the past, though it's not being shown this month.) Happily, HOLIDAY INN is available on DVD, and it's highly recommended Christmastime viewing.

For more on TCM in December, please visit TCM in December: Highlights and TCM in December: Christmas Movies, as well as the TCM schedule.


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