HAPPY GINGER ROGERS’ BIRTHDAY, MOVIE NERDS!
Now, let us celebrate with a little (lot of) appreciation for The Barkleys Of Broadway.
(Allow yourself some time, dear reader, while I recover from the precious of that picture. OK, all good.)
There are a few facts we all know about Barkleys, namely that this was originally slated to star Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, capitalizing on their success in Easter Parade. Due to personal issues, Judy was unable to get past the rehearsal process, so Arthur Freed called a little lady named Ginger Rogers, who had a small history with Fred, back at RKO. You may have heard of their other movies before. 🙂 While I haven’t actually done research on whether Betty Comden and Adolph Green purposely mirrored some of Fred and Ginger’s actual professional experiences, for Barkleys, I know I’m not the only one who has noted how similar Dinah Barkley’s plight is to some of the professional road blocks Ginger, herself, went through. While she had a reasonably good thing going for her, in the movies, before her teaming with Fred, in Flying Down To Rio (which they completely stole from the stars of the show), her popularity exploded, alongside him. While she achieved some acclaim in solo films, through the 30’s, such as Stage Door, she suddenly had to prove that she was more than Fred Astaire’s arm candy and dance partner. Oh, and prove it she did, winning an Oscar, in the process.
Now, take out the whole married factor of Barkleys, and what do we have? Do I really have to type all that again, and substitute Dinah for Ginger?
In some social circles, I’ve noted that saying this is my favorite of Fred & Ginger’s movies gets me some weird looks. Many seem to think this is somehow sub par to their RKO musicals, but I beg to differ. To me, this movie is akin to walking into Coldstone for ice cream and finding that they’ve still got your favorite flavor, but they’ve dyed it blue and renamed it Shark Week.
Life changing, even.
There is a perfect balance of comedy and drama, both of which Fred and Ginger get to do. They don’t need back up! Well, OK, Oscar Levant’s snark is welcome in any medium and works really well here. By this time, 10 years after their last pairing, they’d both had time to grow as on-screen performers, but were still more than comfortable working together. This all adds up to a movie that welcomes the viewer in like an old friend. It’s infinitely rewatchable, which I can more than attest to. I was going to apply for a Guinness World Record for the amount of times I’ve seen it, but I lost count about 14 years ago at viewing 122.
The most maddening thing about dealing with people who snub this film is the attacks on Ginger’s appearance. From rabid Judy Garland fans who attack anyone who “dared” replace her to people who don’t have an ounce of creative thinking in their bodies and fill reviews with things like, “Ginger got fat!” the arguments against this movie tend to range from insulting to absurd. If Ginger Rogers, in 1949, is fat, then I don’t know how I can fit through doorways. Sorry, boys (who seem to be the only ones who comment on Ginger’s appearance)- not every woman can look like Vera-Ellen all their lives, nor should she. What is singularly hilarious about all of the detraction, though, is that everyone, at the time, knew this was something special. When Ginger walked onto the set, the first day, people cried over the reunion. While everyone on set was crying like a little baby (I imagine my past life was there, trying to find kleenex to cover my ugly snot-sobs), Ginger kissed Fred, and in true Fred style, he said something to the effect of “Let’s get to work.” And that was the beauty- Ginger was a consummate professional, and they could get to work. All said and done, MGM made a profit of over $300,000 on Barkleys. Not too bad for an old guy and a “fat chick,” huh?
I like to think that there are other fans out there, like young me, who have been trained to think they are freaks for loving the crap out of this movie. To everyone, I say, “Let your freak flag fly, and let yourself go!”
I think Ginger may have said that last part, at some point in history… 😉
If you are one of the last remaining people on Earth, who doesn’t own this movie, I’m sorry. You’re going to have to write to Warner Archive or, I don’t know, Congress, because this movie is NOT FREAKING AVAILABLE TO BUY ON DVD, NEW, ANYMORE.
Shut it down.