Wednesday, February 4, 2009

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Casting Coup Month: Swing Time

It was eight o'clock on a Wednesday night, and there was nothing to do. So, I watched television, for what would any other clear-thinking individual do? I sat with my parents, the channel tuned to TCM, and prepared to sit through Top Hat, a movie that I had always known of but had never seen. Well, thought I, why not? And I watched it, thought it was amazing, couldn't wait to see it again. Then my parents went to bed, and I went to my own room so I could continue watching the Fred and Ginger marathon in peace. Would they all have fabulously strange art deco Venices?

Alas, no. But that second movie. That second movie was just brilliant.

Oh, sure, it didn't have the art deco Venice that Top Hat boasted. But it did have a number of amazing musical numbers, two of which I actually knew! There's a song in the snow, a naughty bit involving the Oscar-winning tune, and, of course, the infamous blackface number, "Mr. Bojangles of Harlem", which is also one of the greatest examples of choreography on film. Indeed, Hermes Pan was nominated at the 1936 Oscar ceremony for Best Dance Direction for this song, but lost to Seymour Felix's "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" from The Great Ziegfeld.

But that was just one of this film's two nominations. And we only cast Winners here, folks.So, that fateful night, on March 4, 1937, Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" (from Born to Dance) lost to Swing Time, the tag team of Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, and "The Way You Look Tonight." And I may be a HUGE Porter fan. I may think he's the greatest thing since sliced bread (which is not to be underestimated, bee-tee-dubs). But the Academy made the right choice. "The Way You Look Tonight" is not only incredible in the film, when Astaire sings it to a showering Ginger Rogers (NAUGHTY); it is also one of those great tunes that transcends its origins. It's not just a Sinatra standard or a ditty from a Fred & Ginger musical. It's pure poetry, a song that perfectly captures April 9, 2006. Its influence can be seen everywhere. Kenneth Branagh seems to have an especially warm attachment to it, as it has appeared in two of his films: Love's Labour's Lost and Peter's Friends.

(Sorry, I couldn't find a clip from the film)

And the movie's not bad, either. I mean, sure, the plot doesn't make any sense: After missing his wedding, Lucky Garnett (Fred Astaire) and Pops (Victor Moore) are sent to New York to earn $25,000, or he won't get a second chance with the bride. He happens to meet Penny (Ginger Rogers), a dance instructor. They dance, they sing, they fall in love, then his fiancee comes back and a bandleader starts to fall for Penny. It's a lot of fun, though, and there are always great quips in a 1930s musical comedy.

Anyway, everyone complains that "they don't make 'em like they used to." Well, they can. And they will. Or, at least, I like to imagine what would happen if they did....

Who is He: The father of Lucky's fiancee. It is he who demands that Lucky earn $25,000 before he tries marrying Margaret again. A trifle tyrannical, perhaps, but he loves his daughter and hates Lucky. So.

Originally played by:

Landers Stevens (Little Caesar, Citizen Kane), who usually went uncredited. This film was no exception.

My Choice: The voice of Shredder on The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon we grew up with...

James Avery (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Prince of Egypt)
Why? Because it's a small role, but it motivates the entire plot. We need someone who is a commanding enough presence that Lucky would have little choice but to obey. Fans of Fresh Prince, does he not deliver this a hundredfold? Ladies and gentlemen, Exbihit A: "You listen to me, you big-eared freeloader! You take your square-headed cousin and you go get Geoffrey back! Or they will *never find your bodies*! I'm a judge! I can *make it happen*!" Cah. Lassic.

Who is He: A bandleader who falls in love with Penny. Because of this, he refuses to play for her and Lucky at their wedding. If they ever get married, that is.

Previously played by:

Georges Metaxa (The Doctor Takes a Wife, West Side Kid)

My Choice:

Miguel A. Nunez, Jr. (Juwanna Mann, Black Dynamite)
Because (a) he's not that terrible, (b) he's good-looking enough so that it makes sense, and (c) he's Puerto Rican, so I don't have to change the name.

Who is She: The high society daughter of Judge Watson, she is engaged to be married to Lucky. Despite all the heartbreak and tears from his missing the wedding, she gives him another chance, provided he can earn $25,000.

Originally played by:

Betty Furness (Scarlet River, Magnificent Obsession)

My Choice:

Paula Patton (Deja Vu, Idlewild)
Patton looks high-class pretty, doesn't she? Like a society beauty....HM? Yes? The role does not call for much, though Patton is a pretty good actress. Besides, look at her. We need some reason for his wanting to marry this girl.

Who is He: A creepy dance instructor. He introduces Lucky to Penny.

Originally played by:

Eric Blore (Top Hat, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad)

My Choice:

Eddie Griffin (Undercover Brother, Armageddon)
Can I just say how much I like Eddie Griffin? His performance alone made the remake of The Year Without a Santa Claus tolerable. It's a cameo, but one that has to sell us, one that has to funny. Eddie Griffin is hilarious, and it would be fun to see him play a prissy type.

Who is She: Penny's awesome friend. She's older, wiser, wittier. Probably drinks. Mabel finds Pops to be a bit of a bore, but somewhat intriguing. And she adores Lucky and wants him and Penny together. From what I recall, anyhow.

Originally played by:

Helen Broderick (Top Hat, Service de Luxe)

My Choice:

Loretta Devine (Waiting to Exhale, This Christmas)
The original Lorrell on Broadway (though I do love you, Anika Noni Rose), Devine is an active and gifted actress/singer. She can do comedy, she can do drama, she can do the in-betweens, and I do believe she was the cop in the Urban Legend films. The lady's gifted, and to not offer her a fun role like Mabel would be a crime.

Who is He: A magician who runs a magic and dance act with Lucky. After helping to trick Lucky into missing his wedding, Pop winds up tagging along on the trip to New York. As Lucky hits it off with Penny, Pop tries the ol' charm on Mabel.

MABEL: I used to go there in the summer as a kid. You know, before the war.
POP: Which war?

Oh, Pop! That's sure to help you score!

Originally played by:

Victor Moore (Ziegfeld Follies, The Seven Year Itch)

My Choice:

Charles S. Dutton (Rudy, Honeydripper)
God, I love Rudy. Anyway, you all know Dutton. Even if you don't think you do, you do. The man's in everything. He's the perfect foil for Lucky's debonair suavity.

Who is She: A dance instructor who tries, in vain, to teach Lucky to dance. Then she realizes that he's actually quite the hoofer. And, yes, she falls for him, and doesn't want to, but does, but doesn't, and so on. Like Top Hat, only this is Swing Time.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (Kitty Foyle), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy (Monkey Business)

Ginger Rogers (42nd Street, Roxie Hart)

My Choice:

Zoe Saldana (Drumline, Vantage Point)
I know it's sacrilege to "replace" Ginger Rogers, but if Renee Zellweger can do it, why not Zoe Saldana? She's beautiful, a good actress, and a trained dancer. She can be funny without playing "sassy", and she has class. I would love to have her be our Ginger of the Aughts.

Who is He: Lucky is a gambler and dancer who misses his own wedding to his childhood sweetheart. Challenged to earn $25,000 to gain the judge;s approval, Lucky goes to New York and meets Penny. He falls for Penny, sings and dances, and has an overall swell time.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Towering Inferno), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (The Towerin Inferno), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (Three Little Words) and Best Supporting Actor (The Towering Inferno)

Fred Astaire (On the Beach, Funny Face)

My Choice:

Mos Def (Be Kind Rewind, The Italian Job)
Mos Def is not just an accomplished rap artist. He has a great singing voice, at least for oldies like these. And he's already proved himself to be a pretty fantastic actor. Check out HBO's Something the Lord Made. It's good. He's great. I can see him playing this role without difficulty.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

1 Mabel "probably" drinks? Make that a definitely.

2. I love the word "aught" and I really need to work it into conversation more often.

3. FYI, I want Mos Def to father my children, so once you're all sucessful and well-connected in Hollywood, don't forget your 'ol cousin.

4. The Gay Divorcee is also really great.