Thursday, March 15, 2012
I don't care if you don't like musicals, or Fred Astaire movies, or old films, this is one you should see some time if you admire true genius at a difficult craft. It has slipped into the public domain, to it is easy to find online.
Fred Astaire was at the top of his game here. Even though he had visibly aged since his pre-war classics, and his dance partners more often consisted of coat racks or chairs than women (who clearly would have had a difficult time keeping up with him at this point), the man is dancing perfection in this film.
I wonder how long it took for Astaire to perfect his dance sequences. If it was anything less than months, he must have been just otherworldly. Manipulating large, inanimate objects in just the right way while in the midst of strenuous dance sequences, well, that's a lot harder than Astaire makes it look. There are playful moments as well, such as when he carries a monkey in his arms at one point, who cutely takes a swipe at him after he lets the monkey down. The all-time classic, of course, is the dance sequence in which he dances on the floor, the walls, and the ceiling without making it seem like a trick at all. He even picks up a photograph in the middle and dances with it, ending in a chair only slightly out of breath, the true master. Anyone who thinks that high-class dancing is effete or only for snobby types or something like that, well, they need to see this film some time. Astaire is amazing. At his best, he absolutely schooled the also-great Gene Kelly.
The rest of the story is a bit mannered, and I hate to say this, but Astaire rarely impressed me as an actor (his best was probably Stanley Kramer's "On the Beach" some years later, because there always seemed to be an underlying sadness to Astaire in his later years which resonated in that film). His love scenes here with Sarah Churchill are a bit too formal for my taste. But they do offer some time to recover from the breathless dance sequences. Peter Lawford pops in with a dull performance as an English Lord just to give Jane Powell, playing Astaire's sister/dance partner, also someone to love. Keenan Wynn gives an eccentric performance as a stereotypical Englishman that offered a bit of comic relief as well. But this film is all Fred Astaire, all the time.
The basic idea of "Royal Wedding" has been done many times since, in various permutations, with Americans going to England for some wedding or royal occasion and finding love ("The Wedding Date" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral" spring instantly to mind). If you like that type of film, you should be able to pop this in your player and enjoy it as well. The concluding royal wedding scenes, surely put in there for topical reasons back in 1951 and to bring the story to a conclusion that otherwise would have been difficult to find, are rather prosaic now, but underline the overall romantic atmosphere.
One of the great dance films of all time. Very romantic. Well worth a look.