Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Royal Wedding (1951)

"How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life?" Believe it or not, kiddies, that song title is one of the least memorable things about this Fred Astaire dance vehicle.

By 1951, when this film was released, Astaire had already been in more than twenty films, including the perennially popular Holiday Inn in which he teamed with crooner Bing Crosby and songwriter Irving Berlin for a film that gave us the song "White Christmas", and Easter Parade which, of course, included not only the famous title song, but paired Astaire with both Ann Miller and Judy Garland. He had also made ten films with legendary partner Ginger Rogers. Astaire had also, by this time shared the screen with famed tap dancer Eleanor Powell, Latina bombshell Rita Hayworth, and friend and friendly rival Gene Kelly.

Perhaps it's knowledge of these previous pairings with such outstanding dancers, each of whom brought their own style and flair to the proceedings that heightens the delightful surprise that in this film Astaire's most interesting partner turns out to be a hat rack. And no, that is meant as neither euphemism nor slur. While waiting for his sister/partner Ellen Bowen (played by Jane Powell) to show up for rehearsal, Astaire (in the role of Tom Bowen) gets bored, and begins rehearsing without her, instead utilizing the props around him, seemingly almost giving them a life of their own. Here, have a look for yourselves:

Again, however, even as much fun as that particular dance is, it's still not the most memorable thing about this film. No, that comes later, towards the end of the flick, when both Tom and Ellen have fallen in love (she with Peter Lawford's Lord John Brindale, he with Sarah Churchill's Anne Ashmond). So overcome with emotion is Astaire that upon returning to his room he literally begins dancing on the walls and then on the ceiling. Of course in today's CGI-infested world where it takes nothing more than a few pixels for filmmakers to have Spider-man and his cohorts bouncing off walls and flinging themselves through the caverns of New York, showing one man dancing his way around the walls and ceiling of his hotel room may not seem like much, but when you consider that the effect is done not with computers, but practically, in camera, and then add in the style and grace that Astaire brings to the production, one can't help bu be charmed. Again, let's take a look, shall we?

What's that? I haven't said much about the plot? Ummm.. yeah, there could be a reason for that. Actually, plot-wise it's pretty standard fare. As mentioned above, Astaire and Powell play a brother and sister song and dance team who take their act to London at the time of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. While on the journey across the sea, she meets and falls for Lord Brindale, and after their arrival, he meets and falls for Anne Ashmond. The usual complications ensue, including conversations about whether their new loves will mean the break-up of the act, but by the end of the last reel, everyone we have met in the film, including the french poodle that wee-ed on the fire hydrant in act one has gotten married.

But let's be honest - it's not the plot that drives this movie at all. It's the dancing. And it's definitely pretty incredible.

Ok, here's the skinny:
Title: Royal Wedding
Release Date: 1951
Running Time: 93min
Starring: Fred Astaire, Jane Powell
Directed by: Stanley Donnen
Produced by: Arthur Freed
Distributed by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Royal Wedding is available to watch or download for free here.
It's also available for purchase on DVD from Amazon: Royal Wedding (1951) [Remastered Edition].
Netflix also has it available for rental or to watch instantly: Royal Wedding.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian


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