10/6/07

CLEAR THE AIR WITH FRED ASTAIRE...

fredastaire

Even Irving Berlin must have realized that the Harry Richman "Putting On the Ritz" performance (see 10/1 post--if you dare) was simply not going to cut it as the songs official movie appearence. In the 1940's, Berlin concocted a story idea for a film that would encompass a large chunk of his song catalogue (he'd done this once before--1938's "Alexanders Ragtime Band"). The resulting film, "Blue Skies" (1946) stars Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby and contains one of the truly sublime Astaire screen moments. Yes, it's "Putting On the Ritz" and this version will make you smile forever.


Things to watch for: how terribly relaxed--yet seething--Astaire is through the first chorus, with the energy of a panther waiting to strike. And how does he get the cane to do what it does at 2:58? Finally, the mirror routine which closes the number. Double exposure? Rear screen projection? I honestly don't know and would love the answer. By the way, according to the the IMDB entry on the film, Astaire was not the original choice for the role. Filming apparently began with Paul Draper in the lead. This great tap dancer--known as the "Aristocrat of Tap"--was a New York nightclub sensation of the thirties and forties whose career was derailed by the communist witchhunts. But "Blue Skies" predates that sorry era by a few years and the reasons for Draper being replaced are not clear--either Joan Caulfield didn't like him (and if that was the case, who cared?) or Draper may have had a stutter. Whatever. Astaire stepped in--just as he did for the injured Gene Kelly two years later in "Easter Parade" (coincidentally another catalogue-busting Berlin potpourri) and one can't imagine either movie without him.