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A Tender Farewell
on 29 September 2005
This beautiful and poignant farewell from one of the most memorable and beloved of screen couples in film history was the perfect way to say goodbye. Their previous pairings had been filled with joy, grace and elegance; a delightful escapism which helped get everyone through the depression and set a tone of charm and romance no one else has ever come close to. Appropriately enough, their last in the incredible cycle is tender and sweet, faint echoes of their previous entries mixed with the melancholy of something special disappearing forever, never to pass this way again.
Astaire and Rogers tell the story of Vernon and Irene Castle, who set dance and fashion trends all across Europe and America during a more innocent time in the world. Their's was a story of love, humor and dance. But when what they had always dreamed of was within their reach, the world intruded in a way which could not have been anticipated. Astaire and Rogers have never been so real as in this nostalgic and gentle ode to love and innocence.
Based on Irene Castle's stories, "My Husband" and "My Memories of Vernon Castle," the adaptation by Oscar Hammerstein II and Dorothy Yost was turned into a screenplay by Richard Sherman. Ginger's costumes were created by the real Irene Castle, and the Castle's love hangs over this film like a soft velvet fog. H. C. Potter's direction is minimal, allowing Fred and Ginger to say so long through the story of Vernon and Irene.
It begins in 1911, when Vernon, a second comic for Lewis Fields, is chasing after another actress. She ditches him at the beach, and a drowning little dog will bring Irene Foot and Vernon Castle together for the first time. Walter Brennen is wonderful as the crusty and protective Walter. He has practically raised Irene and calls her "Sailor" through her entire life. Vernon and Irene slowly come around to each other. A scene where both he and Irene attempt to get her dog to jump in his borrowed automobile, as an excuse to take a ride together, perfectly captures the sweet and lovely innocence of the time prior to WWI.
There is a charm to scenes in the Foot's parlor as Walter, and Irene's parents, go out of their way to leave the couple alone and keep asking if there is any news yet. It will bring a warm smile to your face when Vernon finally tells Irene he loves her and proposes, and laughter at his reaction to her acceptance. There is a warmth and sense of nostalgia to everything here as the young couple try to make their dreams come true.
It was Irene's belief in Vernon that pushed them forward as a dance couple, as she knew his talents were being wasted in the role of comic buffoon he was forced to play on stage. They have to leave Fields in America for Paris, in what appears to be their big break. Their springtime honeymoon in Paris, however, is plagued by financial woes when they discover they are not getting the chane to dance at all, but only for him to keep playing the comic fool for laughs.
That is when Maggie Sutton (Edna May Oliver) steps in, using her influence to get them a chance to dance at the Cafe De Paris. They do it for a meal for themselves and Walter, but once they hit the dance floor, they will never go hungry again. Maggie becomes their manager, her gruff exterior hiding a heart of gold. Their popularity grows to staggering preportions, as does their bliss. They travel all over Europe and America, setting dance and fashion trends the world over.
Vernon and "Sailor" set dance trends such as the "Castlewalk" and "Foxtrot," as well as the "Maxie," the "Castle Polka," and, the legendary "Tango." There are Irene Castle hats, bon bons and face cream. And Vernon Castle shoes and cigars. The montage of Fred and Ginger storming to success is graceful and joyous. Ginger is especially fetching in a memorable black tango dress designed by Irene Castle.
There are dark clouds on the horizon, however, as the entire world is sucked into war for the first time. Vernon and Irene are ready to stop touring and settle down to the life they've always dreamed of having. Irene's fears finally have to take a backseat to Vernon's sense of duty, however, when he joins the fight and enlists in the Royal Flying Core. Irene waits anxiously, the couple exchanging letters until they can be together once again. A more innocent time, intruded upon by the world as never before, is captured beautifully here.
There will be a reunion in France, and one more dance, before Vernon is finally transferred to Texas as a flight instructor. It seems they may have escaped WWI unscathed, but fate may be requesting some sad music, for a final dance. A bittersweet fade out of Irene and Vernon dancing forever, will bring tears not only for the Castles, but for Fred and Ginger, who were in their elegant way, trying to say goodbye.
There is a sweet scent of honeysuckle and roses here, a different but equally lovely magic caught on celluloid one last time. If you love Fred and Ginger, you can not miss the graceful way they chose to exit, spinning and dancing down the lane in our hearts forever.