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Their Last Picture Together Reminds Us Of Why We Loved Them,
This review is from: The Barkleys of Broadway [DVD]  (DVD)
"The Barkleys of Broadway," a musical comedy/romance, (postwar, 1949) was, unexpectedly, the tenth and last film Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made together. It finds Astaire 50 years old, and Rogers, 38, and was made, after a ten-year hiatus, during which they each did their own things, and Rogers won an Oscar for her serious work in Kitty Foyle [DVD]. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios made it, rather than the pair's original studio, Radio Pictures(later RKO). Famed MGM producer Arthur Freed, working in his prestigious music unit, gave it a no-expense spared gloss; it's the dancing couple's first and only picture together in color, full, saturated Technicolor, no less.
The somewhat slow, stagebound script was by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and it is witty: at one point, Astaire says, "I've been sneezing and coughing like a Model T." As is widely known, Astaire, having stepped successfully into the dancing shoes that were meant for Gene Kelly in Easter Parade [DVD] , and worked happily with Judy Garland, was expected to reteam with Garland here. But Garland had been fired, she was ill, although she was apparently well enough to show up on the set, without invitation, and harass Rogers, who had been invited to take her part. Most sources say that Comden and Green therefore had to rewrite the part for Rogers. Most sources also point out that the scriptwriters somewhat followed real life, in that Astaire wanted to be the best song and dance man ever, whereas Rogers yearned for the respect given a serious actress, see KITTY FOYLE. However, let's remember that Garland also yearned for the respect given a serious actress, and eventually made Judgement At Nuremberg  [DVD], and A Star Is Born - 2 Disc Special Edition [DVD] . So whose life were the scriptwriters really thinking about, from the beginning, anyway?
At any rate, this movie differs from the stars' previous work in that they start out already married, (they are quite middle-aged by now) and bickering, rather than courting, and they are portrayed as being already at the height of their careers, enjoying a Broadway hit. They are Josh and Dinah Barkley in this one, and Rogers is tired of being made to feel that Astaire has been her Svengali; she wants a hit of her own, preferably a serious one. The script also differs from their other work in that it provides them with no individual foils. Instead we have the talented piano player and acerbic wit Oscar Levant An American In Paris [DVD] , as their mutual best friend; and Billie Burke, Dinner At Eight  (REGION 2) (PAL) [Dutch Import], in her usual scattered society hostess role. Charles Waters directed; Cedric Gibbons art directed, giving the film its lively look.
Nobody in this house knows quite what to make of Rogers' way over the top, out of the blue, reading of "La Marseillaise." My only theory is that perhaps it was meant as an homage to the then fairly recent wartime CASABLANCA. If you can stop crying long enough during that film's "Marseillaise" scene, you'll notice that it, too, is a bit overwrought. However....
The film's original music was composed by the well-known Harry Warren, with lyrics by George Gershwin, who had died, shockingly young, and most agree the music's nice, but not up to the dancers' earlier great material. However, the pair get a spirited, entertaining, rhythmic workout to "Bouncing The Blues." Their Scottish "Highland Fling" number is enjoyable. "Manhattan Downbeat" just doesn't work. Astaire's favorite, famed choreographer, Hermes Pan, comes back to work on the big, well-known "Shoes with Wings." But the evocative, emotional highpoint of the film has to be the reprise of "They Can't Take That Away From Me," from "Shall We Dance," on which both Ira and George Gershwin worked. It reminds us of every reason we loved the earlier pictures.