Monday, May 10, 2021

After The Fall-Fred Astaire and Jane Powell’s “Royal Wedding” (1951)-A Film Review

After The Fall-Fred Astaire and Jane Powell’s “Royal Wedding” (1951)-A Film Review 

DVD Review

By Bart Webber

Royal Wedding, starring Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Peter Lawford, directed by Stanley Donen, 1951

Everybody loves a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie what with the pair dancing gracefully across the whole set usually some ballroom doing amazing coordinated movements and fancy footwork accompanied by the singing of classic show tunes like “dancing cheek to cheek,” “the way you look tonight” and a million other hum the tune catch a verse here and there from ancient memory form works by the likes of venerable Cole Porter, the catchy tune Gershwins, a hot of Jerome Kern and Mr. American Broadway Irving Berlin. Everybody, well maybe not everybody, but at least fellow film reviewer Phil Larkin and me, loves Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth going through their dancing routines although I confess that I only have eyes for Rita ever since she tore up the screen in Gilda and proved why to the guys who fought and bled in World War II, the parents of my generation had her pin-up girl photo on their locker doors or in their duffle bags so I don’t know if Fred is dancing of not. Then there is this late Astaire turkey from 1951 with Jane Powell in the Technicolor-etched Royal Wedding where Fred and partner fall through the cracks in the Astaire pantheon.

Turkey you say let me count the ways. First maybe the whole idea of Technicolor is the villain. Maybe the magic of Astaire and previous partners is lost against the colors clashing with whatever it is they are doing. The black of Fred’s tux, suit, whatever he was wearing while dancing and the white of the dresses let you focus on the dance not the distractions of the backdrop. Secondly our boy has lost a step or seven by 1951 and it was noticeable that while he had the small circle steps down as usual the pair never swept the vistas as he had with his previous partners. Or maybe he just didn’t trust Jane to go the distance with him. (Even the so-called legendary dancing with the walls, a solo by Fred, toward the end of the film was done in one room, or the walls of one room.) Thirdly there was nothing memorable, meaning hummable or catch a verse on the tip of your tongue, in the various songs sung by either partner and it was almost laughable that Ms. Powell (or the director) couldn’t lip-synch to any of the operatic songs that she was supposedly singing although everybody knew, or should have been presumed to know, that she was barely opening her mouth at times (and was caught at least one time so shame on the editing crews bursting into dance before she was supposed to be finished with her number).      

Worse, worst of all was the tripe storyline which I, and fellow film critic Laura Perkins, watched together to determine who was to do the review could never figure out at least trying to coordinate the storyline with the song and dance routine. To not hold you in suspect any longer Laura “passed” on this one from about the first five minutes, said so, and so against my better instincts I was forced to actually pay attention to this dog in order to warn the reader what to expect. (Seth Garth, yet another film reviewer here, a longtime one, had the whole place in an uproar of laughter when he mentioned that it was easier in the old days on dogs like this one just to rewrite whatever the studio sent out in a press release, sign you name at the top and past in as your considered wisdom on the matter and not actually have to watch the thing.)      

Here is what happened or I think what happened. Tom, played by Astaire, and Ellen, Tom’s sister played by Jane Powell are a song and dance team doing grand business on Broadway. ( A third contender to do this review the previously mentioned Phil Larkin dropped out when he found out the much older Astaire and Powell were tagged  as brother and sister and not to be the “romance” distracted team of the musical so he could go forth on his intergenerational sex kick.) Their agent gets them booked in London for the royal wedding of Princess (now ancient Queen) Elizabeth and still consort Prince Philip although how the shows, the song and dance shows, have anything to do with to with the wedding other than by coincidence is beyond me.

Tom and Ellen while loving to play the romance field in order to add to add to their respective trophy rooms are all business-everything for the theater and the rest be damned. Except the wedding fever must have been catching since Ellen was smitten by a world weary Lord, played by Peter Lawford and Tom by a fetching dancer in the show. After the usual denial of love both are caught by the throat of Cupid’s grip and on royal wedding day, a day when everything comes together about why this thing has that title as the dance team  watch the royal wedding procession pass by about two hundred yards away from their hotel room. On the basis of that spectacle both jump the marriage hoop and live happily ever after-I guess.

As for the dance routines-a mock royal wedding act, a solo by Fred dancing with a hat stand, a ballroom dance on the rolling seas which aboard what might have been the Titanic for the amount of list they had to fight (and which reportedly and I can believe this took 150s takes), a red-light district “romance,” the aforementioned legendry walking the walls shtick, and then a politically incorrect, today, and one would have wished then as well a dance set in Haiti with an all- white cast of ensemble dancers and singers. And Haiti was not even a British colony but French before the 1789 revolution. How does this logjam fit together? Not.              

No comments:

Post a Comment