The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle [VHS]
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Capturing Fred and Ginger's last partnership on film until their reunion in 'The Barkleys of Broadway' ten years later, this is a nostalgic review of the lives of Vernon and Irene Castle. The internationally successful ballroom dancers wooed the hearts of America during World War One, before their careers were tragically cut short by an air crash. Classic numbers include 'Ron, Ron, Ron', 'Take Me Back to New York Town' and 'Little Brown Jug'.
a good movie with enough enjoyable moments for any Astaire-Rogers fan --filmsgraded.com --This text refers to the DVD edition.
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Ginger Rogers appears fresh-faced (reminiscent of a young Doris Day), playing Irene with charm and naivete, while Fred Astaire (bearing a remarkable resemblance to the real Vernon Castle) displays a boyish and vulnerable demeanour - no mean feat when you consider he was nearly 40 at the time the film was made.
This is much more of a serious story compared with the more well-known Fred-and-Ginger films. It is not a musical comedy but a biography with music and dancing. The dances are somewhat different to what we have come to expect from F&G but they are no less entertaining and wondrous for that. It is interesting to see the kind of dances in vogue at the turn of the 19th/20th century and it adds another dimension to Fred and Ginger's repertoire for us to see them perform them. One of my favourites is the Tango, with F&G in Spanish flamenco-type costumes.
There are humorous touches in the film, not just from the two leads but also from Walter Brennan, who plays a crusty but kindly uncle-type figure, and Edna Mae Oliver, who plays the Castles' formidable but motherly dance manager. It is interesting - if somewhat painful - to see Fred perform slapstick in the barber-shop sketch; it is also, in the scene with the benefit concert for the troops, great fun to watch him do a song-and-dance routine with a man in drag!
However, there are many poignant moments too and both Fred and Ginger get to display their talent for serious roles. This is most ably portrayed when the First World War is declared and Vernon (Fred) decides to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps (Vernon was British by birth). Irene (Ginger) is of course anxious about what may happen to him and both actors play these scenes with great tenderness and sensitivity.
The main problem I found with this DVD production (not the film itself) is that the lighting is dark in places. Whether this is due to the Italian production process or whether it is meant to re-create the atmosphere of the early twentieth century, I don't know. The other minor irritation is that the DVD instructions are in Italian, so it meant a bit of juggling around with the DVD control to get the film to play in English. (From the main menu, choose "audio e sottotitoli", then "inglese").
But by no means should you allow these glitches to stop you from buying this DVD or enjoying the film. From its optimistic first scenes to its heart-rending finale, this is one Fred-&-Ginger film that deserves to be better known - and better loved.
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.
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