Top Hat is a 1935 American screwball musical comedy film in which Fred Astaire plays an American dancer named Jerry Travers, who comes to London to star in a show produced by Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton). He meets and attempts to impress Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers) to win her affection. The film also features Eric Blore as Hardwick's valet Bates, Erik Rhodes as Alberto Beddini, a fashion designer and rival for Dale's affections, and Helen Broderick as Hardwick's long-suffering wife Madge.
The film was written by Allan Scott and Dwight Taylor. It was directed by Mark Sandrich. The songs were written by Irving Berlin.
Why It Rocks
- Even though it's their fourth film, this one's the film that officially made Astaire and Rogers iconic household names.
- It's also the first time a film script was written specifically for them.
- Aside from the central duo, the supporting cast is pretty good as well.
- Talking pictures were relatively new and synchronization of sound and image was imperfect at the time, yet they were still able to shoot dance numbers in a single take, which was revolutionary for its time.
- Their story of mistaken identity and romance was surprisingly handled very well.
- Mesmerizing dance numbers, including various stunts from Astaire and Rogers which they make look easy.
- Unforgettable musical numbers, such as "Isn't This a Lovely Day?" and especially what may be their most iconic duet yet, "Cheek to Cheek".
- Roger Ebert famously called the film an "Idiot Plot" in his review of the film. The plot is pretty ridiculous, considering it relies on a misunderstanding where Dale Tremont falls in love with Jerry Travers, then mistakenly decides he is the cheating husband of her best friend, Madge. To do so, she would have to have never met her best friend's husband, which is pretty unlikely.
- In his autobiography, Fred Astaire described the difficulties he and Rogers encountered with Rogers’ feathered dress in the “Cheek to Cheek” routine: “Everything went well through the song, but when we did the first movement of the dance, feathers started to fly as if a chicken had been attacked by a coyote…. This went on again and again….It got to be funny after a while. The news went all over the lot that there was a blizzard on the Top Hat set.”
- According to Astaire, James Cagney showed up on the set during the “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” number and offered Astaire advice on which take of a certain shot – in which the dancer improvised a pantomime bit – was the best.
- Songwriter Irving Berlin participated in all the script conferences to facilitate the blending of story and song.
- Producer Pandro S. Berman wanted a big dance number in the same vein as “The Continental” from The Gay Divorcee and “The Carioca” from Flying Down to Rio, so Irving Berlin composed “The Piccolino.” Perfecting “The Piccolino” required 125 hours of rehearsal time.
- It was screenwriter Dwight Taylor who devised the idea for Astaire’s “sandman-soft shoe” dance in the reprise to his “No Strings” number, in which his soft steps lull downstairs neighbor Ginger Rogers to sleep.
- According to Fred Astaire, the idea for the title dance – the dance in which he uses his cane to “shoot” down a line of tail-coated chorus boys – came to him early one morning while he was tossing restlessly in his bed. He jumped up, grabbed an umbrella out of his closet, made a few exploratory passes with it to test the idea out before crawling sheepishly back into bed.
- During the rehearsal period, Astaire would demand a closed set. Only choreographer Hermes Pan and musician/arranger Hal Borne were allowed to participate in working out the musical numbers, which were created in small sections. Rogers was called when she was needed, but directors and producers had to wait until the numbers were nearly ready for filming before viewing the actual routines.
- The choreography was designed for head-to-foot framing and, with few exceptions, for only three camera angles: head-on, medium right angle and medium left angle. Astaire also insisted that a closely tracking dolly camera – sometimes referred to as the “Astaire Dolly” – film his routines in as few shots as possible. Preferring single shots to elaborately staged camera set-ups, Astaire has famously said, “Either the camera will dance, or I will.”