Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Carefree (1938)

Director: Mark Sandrich

After a hiatus of nearly 16 months RKO would finally release a new Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers picture, continuing a series of films that had made RKO a large sum of money over much of the decade, but was on the downward slide in popularity. The picture would seem a lot less lavish and more intimate, filled with more screwball humor and less musical numbers. Taking a bit of a different direction from their previous works, Carefree is a humorous comedy that still contains moments of dancing that only Astaire and Rogers seemed to be able to provide.

 Carefree is an Astaire/Rogers musical screwball comedy about a psychiatrist falling in love with a patient who happens to be his friend’s fiancée. As a favor to his friend Stephan Arden (Ralph Bellamy), Dr. Tony Flagg (Fred Astaire) agrees to see his fiancée, Amanda Cooper (Ginger Rogers), to help discover why she cannot seem to go through with the wedding they trying to plan. While Tony is delving into her subconscious Amanda falls in love with Tony. To alleviate any issues Tony through hypnosis sways her interest back to Stephan, only to realize he has fallen in love with her. When Stephan discovers of Tony’s infatuation with Amanda he attempts to impede Tony from hypnotizing Amanda again to lift the block that keeps her from loving Tony once again. On Stephan and Amanda’s wedding day Tony gets the chance to speak to her subconscious one more time surprising the wedding guests as Tony and Amanda walk down the aisle together.

The picture follows the usual Astaire/Roger plot devices, including the two being complete strangers ultimately ending together and their expression of falling in love through a dance number, but lacks in areas that were usually seen in earlier films. For once Astaire is not presented as a performer of any kind, but rather of doctor of psychology. Lacking is a larger amount of musical numbers, limiting the total to a very conservative four. Also there is the lack of large lavishness seen in the hay day of musicals in the mid-1930s. Instead the picture goes for a much more screwball story, which can be seen as more entertaining at the time for musicals seemed to be on the down-swing in the year 1938 and the popularity of an Astaire/Rogers feature would not generate the same audience it once had.

All these difference were done for a reason. After 1937’s Shall We Dance, the seventh feature to have paired Astaire and Rogers, both stars decided on going solo for a time. Astaire found a lack of success, while Rogers, whose appeal went beyond musicals, found work in such pictures as the critically successful Stage Door, opposite Katharine Hepburn. The pair was hesitant at first to be reunited once again by RKO, and Rogers was not looking forward to working with director Mark Sandrich again. Despite their past box office successes Rogers felt Sandrich presented Rogers and her characters in a less than positive manner, creating slight friction. However with the formula of past successes, a bit of a more comedy based film, and the prospect of the feature being filmed in beautiful Technicolor the stars would come together and Carefree was green-lit.

"The Kiss" A long time coming for Astaire/Roger pictures.
As easily seen by watching the picture it was not filmed in color, a casualty of Astaire’s picture solo being a flop for the studio, therefore yanking the idea of a color feature from Carefree. Despite that downfall, the film is still shot creatively, with various moving shots and really tour the sets, especially through the dance numbers. The most striking positive difference in this film from the couple’s previous is a very romantic kiss shared between the two of them. Astaire being the major creative star of their pictures did not like “mushy” love scenes, opting to express love through dance. But in the dreamlike dance number “I Used to Be Color Blind” (one of the various songs penned by Irving Berlin for the film) the two share a prolonged, loving kiss. Astaire would state this kiss would make up for all those short pecks or missed chances in their many other films together.

Astaire tacking on a character as a non-performer does well being a psychiatrist, but the movie is really anchored by the acting of Ginger Rogers. A gifted actress long before she became a dance star under Fred Astaire, Rogers provides almost all of the humor for the film, playing a screwball character while she is under hypnosis or drugged by the gas used on her during treatments. Her comedic skill of playing a person under the influence of something that takes her inhibitions away makes her rather entertaining, almost a little bit like Lucille Ball, whom she worked with in Stage Door. Although the story and how the actions play out are a bit contrived the movie still works to make one laugh at times and entertain on a light level.

Ralph Bellamy would be lent out from Columbia pictures for the film, an actor to be known for his various roles in many of the top comedies in the era. It would be a small job for Bellamy, but he does turn a likable guy into a villain even though he had done nothing wrong, only loved his fiancée. He is simply used as a plot piece in the overall scheme of the film, but does the part very well, not to be overshadowed as much as the usual predominate side characters in the previous Astaire/Rogers pictures.

Carefree would not be a financial successful for RKO, perhaps because audiences were tiring of the usual Astaire/Rogers routine, even though the picture is a bit different. Some critics found the style changes refreshing, some calling it the best work for Astaire and Rogers, but under closer inspection this is far from their best work together. As usual for such a well known musical the film was nominated for the customary awards at the Oscars, for best score, best song, and best art direction, but not taking home any honors. Carefree would fail to net a profit as the official end was in sight for these two stars as a team. They would produce one more picture under RKO before Fred Astaire would depart from the studio.

It is sad to see the teaming of Astaire and Rogers dwindle, but Carefree on its own, outside of the team’s precious history together, is an entertaining film, albeit a forgettable one in the long run of cinema. The antics are cute, even funny, but the story, when pondered, is very selfish as a psychiatrist that makes a woman fall in love with him despite her going to marry his good friend. For a screwball comedy the picture is fun, but it is clear the end of Astaire and Rogers was eminent as Astaire does not have his same shine and Rogers performs very well without Astaire by her side.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Out of the Past (1947)

RKO Pictures Director: Jacques Touneur Starring: Robert Mitchum , Jane Greer , Kirk Douglas Honors: National Film Registry ...