Incredibly it’s taken me this long to see Top Hat, one of the most famous musicals starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I expected it to be good, and clearly I had high hopes for the dancing, but what surprised me was how entertaining and amusing the whole film was!

The dances were some of the main highlights of Top Hat, but the supporting characters and the witty script meant that the overall film was excellent. Too often a musical might be light on plot and just focus on creating wonderful song and dance numbers but, for me, Top Hat managed to merge an entertaining story with some fantastic (and memorable) dances.

Plot summary

An American dancer called Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) is in London to perform in a show produced by Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton). Late one night, Jerry is with Hardwick in his hotel and starts tap dancing in his room, waking up the occupant of the room below- Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers).

Dale is understandably not impressed and goes up to complain. There she meets Travers and, quite predictably, he proceeds to fall in love with her.

The next day or so he pursues her and they spend time together (with a little dance of course). Dale, however, mistakenly comes to think that Jerry is in fact Hardwick, who is married to her friend Madge (Helen Broderick).

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing in the bandstand
Isn’t This a Lovely Day (to be Caught in the Rain)

So ensues a lot of comic misunderstanding, both in London and in Venice, as Dale continues to believe that she is being pursued by her friend’s husband while Jerry doesn’t understand why Dale is annoyed at him!

Also joining the quartet are Hardwick’s butler Bates (Eric Blore) and the person who makes Dale’s outfits, Alberto Beddini (Erik Rhodes). They add to the confusion and help to make Top Hat a truly fun and entertaining picture.

Top Hat cast: Horace and Madge Hardwick, Bates, Dale and Jerry, and Beddini
A simple misunderstanding caused so much confusion

My thoughts

Top Hat is a really enjoyable film that I would definitely watch again! I think it deserves its reputation and you can definitely see why Fred and Ginger were such a powerful dancing double-act in that era!

They had a great chemistry and the dances were, of course, excellent. Going into it I thought there may be more dances with Astaire and Rogers to pad out the film, but I think the amount they had was perfect! Both Astaire and Rogers made the dances look so easy, even though they were undoubtedly technically and physically challenging.

I enjoyed the ‘Isn’t This a Lovely Day’ dance as it showed the incredible skills of both dancers, and as they danced side by side you could appreciate both dancers equally.

But ‘Cheek to Cheek’ is the most famous number that everyone remembers, not least because of that dress. The dance is classy, elegant, flowing and whole load of other complimentary words. When you think of Astaire and Rogers, this number is a beautiful example of why they were such massive stars as, again, they just made every movement look so effortless and stylish.

This is a perfect place to say, I loved the costumes in Top Hat! I’m not normally one for dresses, but I want to have everything that Ginger Rogers wore in that movie. The final dress Rogers wore in ‘The Piccolino’ number was stunning, and in the ‘Cheek to Cheek’ number I fell in love with her beautiful feathered gown, but it could so nearly have not been shown.

Astaire and Rogers dancing Cheek to Cheek
Feathers!

Rogers wanted to wear it, but the director (Mark Sandrich) and Astaire weren’t happy as they thought the feathers would get in the way. Rogers stood her ground and got her way, and I think the way the dress moves as she dances makes the number even more beautiful and mesmerising! Although the others were partly proved right as feathers did fly off the gown, I for one am glad that Rogers pushed so hard to wear the dress. I wish I could see it in colour as it is such a stunning dress.

Fred Astaire’s other dance numbers also showed off his genius and his amazing physical capabilities. In ‘No Strings, I’m Fancy Free’, performed at the start of the film in Hardwick’s hotel room, Astaire does a solo tap dance and finds lots of different ways to tap out the beat- something which is great to watch but wasn’t so great for Dale in the room below!

Astaire’s main number was ‘Top Hat, White Tie and Tails’, performed on-stage with a group of backing dancers. Again, the dancing speaks for itself and it’s better just to watch it than me trying to describe how good it was! It was nice to have a big showpiece number in the film (in addition to ‘The Piccolino’ at the end) where you could appreciate Astaire’s dancing as well as the overall vision with the other dancers in top hat and tails.

Astaire in Top Hat, White Tie and Tails
Top Hat, White Tie and Tails

But enough of the dancing, what about the rest of the film?

Aside from the dancing, Top Hat is an amusing and enjoyable film. Its place in the movie halls of fame is largely because of the dancing of Astaire and Rogers; without it, Top Hat would be an entertaining yet forgettable film that would sit alongside other comedies of its time.

But as someone who enjoys these kinds of films, I liked the plot even though it perhaps was a bit thin. It’s silly, and the misunderstandings could have been cleared up with just a few words, but it made for a lot of entertaining situations and witty dialogue.

Dale being horrified at the thought of a married man pursuing her, and her friend’s husband no less, contrasted with Madge being relatively unconcerned that her husband Horace might be playing around. Then you include Jerry, who Dale thinks is Madge’s husband and who Madge is trying to set up with Dale, and the comedy writes itself.

Edward Everett Horton was also great as Horace Hardwick, and his comic timing was great. Whenever he was speaking with Jerry, Bates (his butler) or Madge, you couldn’t help but smile!

Beddini also contributed his fair share of humour to the film, as he regularly mixed up his words to great comic effect. He may have been a bit of a caricature, but as it’s not a serious film, his exaggerated nature adds to it rather than detracts from it.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
Everything turned out fine in the end!

Favourite quote

There were several funny comments, particularly surrounding Dale mistakenly thinking Jerry was the already-married Hardwick. But one of my favourite quotes was when Dale was trying to tell Madge that her husband had pursued her in London.

Madge: “What’s the matter? Did he flirt with you?”

Dale: “He sent me a room full of flowers.”

Madge: “Well that was sweet of him.”

Dale: “But Madge! You don’t understand! He chased me in the park.”

Madge: “Really? I didn’t know Horace was capable of that much activity!”

Dale telling Madge about Jerry, who she thinks is Horace.
Madge and Dale in Venice talking
An awkward conversation

Summary

Overall, the musical numbers are clearly the outstanding elements of Top Hat. But, even though the plot is almost secondary to the dancing, it is still good enough to elevate the film above others in its genre. Top Hat is pure fun and light-hearted entertainment that anyone would be sure to enjoy.

Astaire and Rogers are as good as you expect, but the rest of the cast and the dialogue also make Top Hat a film that you would be more than happy to watch again!