Swing Time (1936)

103 mins | Musical, Romantic comedy | 4 September 1936

Director:

George Stevens

Producer:

Pandro S. Berman

Cinematographer:

David Abel

Editor:

Henry Berman

Production Designer:

Van Nest Polglase

Production Company:

RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

The working titles of this film were I Won't Dance and Never Gonna Dance . Modern sources state that Pick Yourself Up was also considered as a title, along with fifteen other suggestions. Writer Erwin Gelsey's original screen story was titled "Portrait of John Garnett." According to modern sources, RKO had purchased Gelsey's story, which focused on the exploits of a gambler, some time before this film's production. In Nov 1935, Gelsey was hired to adapt his story to the screen, according to a HR news item. According to SAB records, Gelsey was under consideration for a screenplay credit with Howard Lindsay and Allan Scott as late as Jul 1936. A Jun 1936 SAB notice assigns Dorothy Yost and Ben Holmes "contributing writing" credits. Modern sources claim that Lindsay, who had directed Fred Astaire in the stage version of The Gay Divorce , wrote the first draft of the screenplay, which Astaire-Rogers veteran Scott then re-wrote substantially. In late Apr 1936, just before shooting was to start, a HR news item announced that Scott had been recalled from New York to write "added dialog."
       RKO borrowed Betty Furness from M-G-M for this production. Actor Landers Stevens, who protrayed "Judge Watson," Furness's father in the film, was director George Stevens's father. "Bojangles of Harlem," in which Astaire performs in black face, was intended as a tribute to the respected black performer Bill Robinson, whose nickname was "Bojangles of Harlem." (One modern source, however, contends that Astaire's true inspiration was black dancer John W. Bubbles, who created the character of "Sportin' ... More Less

The working titles of this film were I Won't Dance and Never Gonna Dance . Modern sources state that Pick Yourself Up was also considered as a title, along with fifteen other suggestions. Writer Erwin Gelsey's original screen story was titled "Portrait of John Garnett." According to modern sources, RKO had purchased Gelsey's story, which focused on the exploits of a gambler, some time before this film's production. In Nov 1935, Gelsey was hired to adapt his story to the screen, according to a HR news item. According to SAB records, Gelsey was under consideration for a screenplay credit with Howard Lindsay and Allan Scott as late as Jul 1936. A Jun 1936 SAB notice assigns Dorothy Yost and Ben Holmes "contributing writing" credits. Modern sources claim that Lindsay, who had directed Fred Astaire in the stage version of The Gay Divorce , wrote the first draft of the screenplay, which Astaire-Rogers veteran Scott then re-wrote substantially. In late Apr 1936, just before shooting was to start, a HR news item announced that Scott had been recalled from New York to write "added dialog."
       RKO borrowed Betty Furness from M-G-M for this production. Actor Landers Stevens, who protrayed "Judge Watson," Furness's father in the film, was director George Stevens's father. "Bojangles of Harlem," in which Astaire performs in black face, was intended as a tribute to the respected black performer Bill Robinson, whose nickname was "Bojangles of Harlem." (One modern source, however, contends that Astaire's true inspiration was black dancer John W. Bubbles, who created the character of "Sportin' Life" in George and Ira Gershwin's Porgy and Bess .) Jerome Kern and Dorothy Field's song "It's Not in the Cards" was written as a full opening number for the film but is heard only briefly as the instrumental conclusion of the first scene and as background music in later scenes. Kern and Fields won an Academy Award for their song "The Way You Look Tonight," and Hermes Pan was nominated for an Award for his dance direction on the "Bojangles" number. HR production charts and news items add Joan Davis, Alan Curtis and Edward Price to the cast list, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Modern sources add Dale Van Sickel ( Diner ), Bud Flanagan (later known as Dennis O'Keefe), Bess Flowers, Ralph Brooks ( Dance extras "The Way You Look Tonight" ) and Blanca Vischer, Marie Osborne (who is listed as a stand-in in production files) and Howard Hickman to the cast. Mel Berns is listed as makeup artist by modern sources. According to studio production files, the New York street scenes were shot on the Paramount lot, the exteriors and interiors of the train station were filmed at Santa Fe Railroad Station in Los Angeles (now called Union Station), and the freight yard scenes were shot in downtown Los Angeles. On 27 Jul 1936, Astaire and Rogers headed a list of top "money draw" names as compiled by HR .
       Modern sources add the following information about the production: Astaire spent almost eight weeks preparing the film's dance routines. Kern, who negotiated for a $50,000 salary and a percentage of the gross up to an additional $37,500, was hired to write seven songs for the film. When faced with Astaire's request that two of the songs be contemporary swing numbers, the musically conservative Kern waffled. After Kern presented Astaire with a blandly syncopated version of "Bojangles of Harlem," Astaire went to Kern's Beverly Hills hotel and spent several hours tap dancing around the room in an attempt to loosen up the number. Later, Kern's frequent collaborater, Robert Russell Bennett, expanded and arranged the tune for production. During rehearsals, Astaire's rehearsal pianist and collaborator, Hal Borne, supplied additional ideas for the number. Borne's contribution was not recognized by Kern, however, who reputedly notified RKO that Borne was not to compose any music or be paid for any music. In contrast, Astaire requested that Borne receive a screen credit along the lines of "additional musical arrangements," but his request was not granted. Kern also called on Bennett to fill out his musical themes on "The Waltz in Swing Time." (Although not credited on the film, Bennett is listed on the song's sheet music with constructing and arranging this number.) In addition to Bennett, Borne also claims to have contributed to the piece.
       Astaire states in his autobiography: " Swing Time took a long time to complete, several weeks more than the others, due largely to the trick screen process necessary for the "Bojangles" number, which I did last of all, after the regular shooting schedule was finished." Astaire used trick photography in the "Bojangles" routine for the first time in his film career. To achieve the effect of the number, in which Astaire appears to be dancing simultaneously with three larger-than-life shadows of himself, Astaire first danced in front of a blank white screen onto which a strong Sun Arc lamp projected a single shadow. Then he performed the "foreground" dance under normal lighting and in front of another blank screen. This dance was combined optically with the shadow dance, which had been tripled optically in the lab. Simultaneity was achieved by having Astaire watch a projected version of the shadow dance while he was performing the foreground dance. The routine required three long days of shooting. For additional information on the Astaire-Rogers films, see entry for Top Hat . On 4 Dec 2003, Never Gonna Dance , a musical based on the film opened on Broadway, using much of the original score. The play closed in Feb 2004. In 2007 Swing Time was ranked 90th on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
24 Aug 36
p. 3.
Film Daily
26 Aug 36
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Nov 35
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Apr 36
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Apr 36
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
11 May 36
p. 4, pp. 12-13.
Hollywood Reporter
21 May 36
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jun 36
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jul 36
p. 1, 6
Hollywood Reporter
24 Aug 36
p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily
25-Aug-36
---
Motion Picture Herald
29 Aug 36
p. 43.
MPSI
1 Aug 36
p. 10.
New York Times
28 Aug 36
p. 21.
Variety
2 Sep 36
p. 18.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Pandro S. Berman Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dial dir
Asst dir
2nd asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Story
Contr wrt
Contr wrt
Contr wrt
Contr wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
Asst cam
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir assoc
"Silver Sandal" set and "Bojangles" cost
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dresser
Asst prop man
COSTUMES
Ward
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
DANCE
Dance dir
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Scr clerk
Asst grip
Asst grip
Gaffer
Best boy
Props
Still photog
STAND INS
Stand-in for Fred Astaire
Stand-in for Ginger Rogers
SOURCES
SONGS
"The Waltz in Swing Time," music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, constructed and arranged by Robert Russell Bennett
"It's Not in the Cards," "Pick Yourself Up," "The Way You Look Tonight," "A Fine Romance
Sarcastic Love Song," "Bojangles of Harlem" and "Never Gonna Dance," music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Dorothy Fields.
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Never Gonna Dance
I Won't Dance
Release Date:
4 September 1936
Premiere Information:
New York opening: week of 27 August 1936
Production Date:
11 May--31 July 1936
Copyright Claimant:
RKO-Radio Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
27 September 1936
Copyright Number:
LP6624
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Victor System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
103
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
2273
SYNOPSIS

Already late for his hometown wedding, featured troupe dancer and professional gambler John "Lucky" Garnett is delayed further when his fellow dancers, who want to keep him single and in show business, convince him that the cuffless trousers of his morning suit are out of style and need tailoring. By the time Lucky arrives at his fiancée Margaret Watson's home, her infuriated father, Judge Watson, has called off the wedding. Once calm, Watson tells Lucky that, if he wants a second chance with Margaret, he must earn at least $25,000 in New York City. Determined to make good, Lucky accepts Watson's challenge and with his friend, magician Everett "Pop" Cardetti, and his lucky quarter, hops a train to the city. Shortly after they arrive, Lucky, broke but still in his wedding clothes, asks a pretty stranger, Penelope "Penny" Carrol, for change for his lucky quarter so that Pop can buy a pack of vending machine cigarettes. When the machine gives them a flood of unexpected change, Lucky chases after Penny to ask for his quarter back, but she mistakes his eagerness for mashing and refuses his request. After Pop pickpockets the quarter from Penny's purse, Penny accuses Lucky of theft and calls a policeman. To Penny's dismay, the policeman sides with the well-dressed Lucky, and Penny leaves in a huff for her job as an instructor at the Gordon Dancing Academy. Lucky follows Penny into the Academy and poses as an ardent but awkward pupil. Frustrated by Lucky's seemingly hopeless dancing, a still angry Penny insults him in front of Gordon, the Academy's fussy owner, and is fired. To save Penny's job, Lucky insists ... +


Already late for his hometown wedding, featured troupe dancer and professional gambler John "Lucky" Garnett is delayed further when his fellow dancers, who want to keep him single and in show business, convince him that the cuffless trousers of his morning suit are out of style and need tailoring. By the time Lucky arrives at his fiancée Margaret Watson's home, her infuriated father, Judge Watson, has called off the wedding. Once calm, Watson tells Lucky that, if he wants a second chance with Margaret, he must earn at least $25,000 in New York City. Determined to make good, Lucky accepts Watson's challenge and with his friend, magician Everett "Pop" Cardetti, and his lucky quarter, hops a train to the city. Shortly after they arrive, Lucky, broke but still in his wedding clothes, asks a pretty stranger, Penelope "Penny" Carrol, for change for his lucky quarter so that Pop can buy a pack of vending machine cigarettes. When the machine gives them a flood of unexpected change, Lucky chases after Penny to ask for his quarter back, but she mistakes his eagerness for mashing and refuses his request. After Pop pickpockets the quarter from Penny's purse, Penny accuses Lucky of theft and calls a policeman. To Penny's dismay, the policeman sides with the well-dressed Lucky, and Penny leaves in a huff for her job as an instructor at the Gordon Dancing Academy. Lucky follows Penny into the Academy and poses as an ardent but awkward pupil. Frustrated by Lucky's seemingly hopeless dancing, a still angry Penny insults him in front of Gordon, the Academy's fussy owner, and is fired. To save Penny's job, Lucky insists on demonstrating for Gordon what he has just learned from Penny and executes a complex routine with her. Impressed by the duet, Gordon arranges for Penny and Lucky to audition at the Silver Sandal nightclub but stipulates that Lucky wear a tuxedo in the act. Still broke, Lucky and Pop check into the same hotel as Penny and her older single friend, Mabel Anderson, and try to win a tuxedo from a drunk gambler on the night of the audition. When Penny discovers a half-dressed Lucky playing piquet in his room, she storms away in another huff. A week later, Lucky, who with Pop's help has won hundreds of dollars gambling and has arranged for another audition, finally convinces Penny of his sincerity. However, at the club audition, bandleader Ricardo "Ricky" Romero, who is in love with Penny, jealousy refuses to play for the couple. Lucky then learns that Ricky's contract has been won by Raymond, a casino owner, and with Pop's sleight-of-hand help, wins Ricky's contract for himself. Against his wishes, Ricky plays for Penny and Lucky's triumphant audition, but the dancers' budding romance is stifled when Lucky suddenly remembers his pledge to Margaret. Although he has vowed to stop gambling and has insisted on a modest salary in order to avoid earning the now dreaded $25,000, Lucky instructs Pop to keep him away from the tempting Penny. When Pop reveals to a perplexed Penny the reason behind Lucky's aloofness, Penny again snubs her partner and, in spite of her love for him, returns to Ricky. After Lucky and Penny's grand performance at the Silver Sandal's re-opening, Lucky is surprised by the appearance of Margaret and then is confronted by Raymond, who accuses Pop of cheating him out of Ricky's contract. Raymond demands that the game be re-played with his pack of marked cards, and wins back the contract, after which Penny tells Lucky that she and Ricky are engaged. Thoroughly depressed, Lucky prepares to tell Margaret that he no longer loves her, but she surprises him by revealing that she, too, has fallen in love with someone else. Minutes before Penny is to marry Ricky, Madge tells her about Lucky's broken engagement, while Lucky and Pop conspire to thwart the wedding using the cuffed trouser hoax. In the end, Penny calls off the wedding and reunites with Lucky. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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