Barkleys of Broadway, The (1949): Oscar-Nominated Technicolor Dance Musical, Starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Their Last Teaming

Though one of the weakest teaming of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, “The Barkleys of Broadway” still merits a viewing for aficionados of the musical film genre and of the best couples to decorate the Hollywood screen.

This turned out to be the last film that Astaire and Rogers made together, and their only film together in color.

Directed by Charles Waters, the screenplay is by vets Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Sidney Sheldon.

By 1949, both Astaire and Rogers have aged, and the screenplay tries to acknowledge this fact with a plot about a married dancing couple, who are great on stage but argue endlessly when they’re off stage.

In a nod to her real-life persona and ambitions, Rogers wants to be taken seriously as a dramatic actress—Rogers did win the Best Actress Oscar in 1940 for “Kitty Foyle.”

For his part, the confident and arrogant Astaire claims that without him, her value is greatly diminished.

After their smash success in “Easter Parade,” producer Arthur Freed wished to reunite Astaire and Judy Garland, but the latter’s physical and mental problems forced him to replace Garland with Ginger Rogers.

Garland’s frequent absences due to dependency on prescription medication cost her the role, and in two years she would be fired by MGM.

Though the movie was a commercial hit, artistically it is disappointing, in large measure due to the incongruence between the skills and talents of Harry Warren the composer and Ira Gershwin the lyricist.

The couple also dance to hit tune, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” by brothers George and Ira Gershwin..

Made on a budget of about $2 million, the musical was a commercial success, earning twice as much at the box-office.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Cinematography (color): Harry Stradling

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

In 1949, the winner of Color Cinematography was Winton Hoch for the John Ford-John Wayne western, “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.”

Running time: 109 Minutes

Release date: May 4, 1949.

About Fred Astaire

Born on May 10, 1899, Omaha, Nebraska, Astaire began touring the vaudeville circuit at the age of seven with his sister Adele as a dancing partner.   In 1917, they made their Broadway dancing debut in the musical “Over the Top,” followed by their first big success, “The Passing Show of 1918,” after which hey became perennial favorites with Broadway and London audiences.  After more stage hits, including “Lady Be Good” (1924), “Smiles” (1930), and “The Band Wagon” (1931), the partnership was dissolved when Adele married Lord Charles Cavendish.

Astaire was given a Hollywood screen test, resulting in the famous verdict: “Can’t act.  Slightly bald.  Can dance a little.”  Nevertheless, he got a small part opposite Joan Crawford in  “Dancing Lady” (1933).  Shortly afterward, Astaire was paired with newcomer Ginger Rogers, a partnership that was to last through ten films and produced some of the most magical moments in musical history.  When Rogers turned to dramatic roles, Astaire continued to dominate the musical film scene with Lucille Bremer, Rita Hayworth, Eleanor Powell, and Cyd Chariss, and others.  In 1946, with Gene Kelly fast becoming his heir apparent, Astaire announced his retirement, but two years later, he replaced the ailing Kelly as Judy Garland’s partner in “Easter Parade,” in a triumphant comeback.

Almost single‑handedly, Astaire restyled the song‑and‑dance film, leaving his graceful mark on all musical movies.  His own films always included solo dance numbers, in which he skillfully improvised in his free, easygoing style, charming audiences with relaxed exuberance and sophistication.  Astaire also introduced many hit songs, written specifically for his pleasant, if untrained, singing voice.

Oscar Award

In 1949, Astaire received a special Oscar Award “for his unique artistry and his contributions to the techniques of musical pictures.”  In 1981, he was honored with the American Film Institute’ Life Achievement Award.

Mark Sandrich and George Stevens merely allowed Astaire to devise his own routines and photographed them as unobtrusively as possible.  In contrast, directors like Minnelli, Donen, and Charles Walters, who had extensive experience in both the theater and the movies, exercised their right to shape the material with their own imprint.  One of the most delightful qualities of Astaire’s RKO work was his sense of impromptu spontaneity.  In later years, clever scenarios, lively pacing, and Technicolored visual dazzle couldn’t compensate for the demise of composers like Kern and Gershwin, and the decline of Porter and Berlin.

Cast:

Josh Barkley (Fred Astaire)

Dinah Barkley (Ginger Rogers)

Ezra Miller (Oscar Levant)

Mrs. Belney (Billie Burke)

Shirlene May (Gale Robbins)

Jacques Barredout (Jacques Francois)

The Judge (George Zucco)

Bert Felsher (Clinton Sundberg)

Pamela Driscoll (Inez Cooper)

Gloria Amboy (Carrol Brewster)

 

 

Credits:

Produced by Arthur Freed

Directed by Charles Walters

Screenplay: Betty Camden and Adolph Green

Camera: Harry Stradling

Art direction: Cedric Gibbons, Edward Carfagno

Editor: Albert Ekst

Music orchestration: Lennie Hayton

Choreography: Hermes Pan, Robert Alton

Costumes: Irene

Animation: Irving G. Reis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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