by Jay Seaver
I am sure that somewhere in "The Gay Divorcee", there's a moment that at least made sense eighty years ago, because it all seems rather adorably silly now. Well, maybe not all - Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers can dance and even spark a bit when sitting down, and that will get you a long way.This time around, Astaire plays Guy Holden, a famous American dancer come to Europe for some time out of the spotlight visiting his English friend Egbert "Pinky" Fitzgerald (Edward Everett Horton). Pinky is watching the store at the family law firm when Mimi Glossop (Ginger Rogers) - a lady who married young and now only hears from her husband when he wants access to her money - walks in looking for a divorce, her Aunt Hortense (Alice Brady), who has been on this merry-go-round several times, in tow. Apparently, the best way about this is for Mimi to be caught in a hotel room with a gigolo (Erik Rhodes), so Pinky sets that up at a Brighton resort. He asks Guy to come along, hoping a few days at the beach will help him get his mind off the girl he met when he first arrived in England... Not realizing that Mimi is that girl.
"Fred, Ginger, and that pesky other man."
To call a movie like The Gay Divorcee goofy or ridiculous is actually a sort of compliment. It is, after all, a farce, based on piling mistaken identities and missed connections until they can be stacked no more and fall over. If the story ever slowed down enough for somebody to think, the thing would fall apart completely, and to a certain extent, it does - it goes from being snappy to requiring a character to be even more ridiculous than previously established to draw things out even more toward the end before heading to a rushed wrap-up. And just getting to the resort seems to take longer than it should.
It's okay, though, because the movie is so darn amiable. It chugs through its first half on Pinky being good-natured but kind of fuzzy in the way that moneyed English gentlemen of the time often were, Hortense being rather daft but well-meaning, Guy being genially obsessed, and Mimi being naturally somewhat resistant to his charms. It's a group that, while being more comfortable than most during the Depression, are still, in their own way, muddling through. And even when the chaos starts at the resort, they're able to take time from the door-slamming frenzy to actually show us Guy and Mimi connecting.
Both Guy's pursuit and Mimi's allowing herself to be caught can be a little creaky; this is just Fred Astaire's third movie and he's still working out the whole on-screen persona thing, able to be charming but not really able to sell the plot's loopier requirements. 23-year-old Ginger Rogers is polished in comparison, able to give Mimi a level of self-confidence and intelligence that keeps her from just being the duped college girl her part could be. Meanwhile, Alice Brady and Edward Everett Horton contribute comic relief that seems kind of mannered today but still works, especially because they do make Hortense and Pinky loyal friends under their spaciness. And while Erik Rhodes is playing a pretty broad Italian caricature, he makes Tonetti more of a very funny, likable character than a generically ridiculous foreigner, supplying the latter half of the movie with about half its energy.
And, oh yeah, those Astaire and Rogers kids can dance a little. At times, this can grind the movie to a stop, as the filmmakers decide to insert numbers practically out of nowhere and then start the movie back up afterward, but it's tough to complain when the people involved (be they Astaire, Rogers, or future pin-up girl Betty Grable) are so good at it. These aren't necessarily the most demanding numbers in the Astaire/Rogers canon, but they're energetic and fun, often filling the screen with impressive and beautiful displays.It does take a while for "The Gay Divorcee" to put Fred and Ginger on the same dance floor, which keeps it from being among their greatest dance films, and it's occasionally a little rough as a comedy, too. Still, doing two things pretty well is more than enough to make a movie enjoyable, and this one does two things well with charm.
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originally posted: 01/19/12 10:30:13