The final act in the story of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Life at the Freed unit at MGM was no picnic. For this film, Roger Edens was the producer and the script was by Comden and Green: at least they did not have to write the score as well. Harry Warren and Ira Gershwin produced that and adjusted it when Judy Garland got fired from the production – which entailed replacing three songs. Neither writer was pleased when “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” was brought in – a song that Astaire and Rogers had previously sung in Shall We Dance. They also had to write a number to a title suggested by Astaire – “Swing Trot”. In truth, despite its dire title, “Swing Trot” was probably the best, most sparkling number in the film. It is a lively tap-dance routine that emphatically signals that Astaire and Rogers are back in town. They look as if they are having a ball. Unfortunately, the opening titles are projected over this sequence, which is a little distracting.
“They Can’t Take That Away From Me” is so obviously the best song in the picture that you can see why the writers were irritated. Warren was writing ballads with long, serpentine melodies at this time and, in this film, Astaire gets to sing “You’d Be So Hard to Replace”. It is a graceful melody, although rather reminiscent of Cole Porter’s ”Easy To Love”, but it is not really conceived vocally. You can almost imagine Warren coaxing it out of a piano. It does not fit well with Astaire’s casual but very rhythmic style of delivery: as with “Wait and See” from The Harvey Girls, a crooner could make it sound gorgeous but it is not particularly memorable a song. On the other hand, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” fits Astaire’s voice and style like a glove. And the routine shows the special magic of Astaire and Rogers. Perhaps she was not as gifted a dancer as Eleanor Powell, Rita Hayworth or Ann Miller but she had much more acting ability than them. In all her films with Astaire, it is clear that she was a gifted comedienne and this tends to come through in their dance routines. Projected out of context, this routine can seem cold and tentative and it is easy to leap to the conclusion that the film does not belong with their nine films for RKO, that it is a mere after-thought. However, the context is that they have been fighting. You can see distrust and wariness on her face and in the way that Rogers dances. And then it gradually melts into a comfortable acceptance of the music and dance. For once, Astaire is out-acted in a dance scene.
As for the rest of the film, there is a mix of the usual Freed unit devices. It seems as if was Freed’s own idea to include a Scottish number, which is surely enough to destroy any reputation he might enjoy as a man of taste. “My One and Only Highland Fling” is toe-curlingly awful – it makes you shudder to watch Fred Astaire strutting around like a second-rate Harry Lauder and both he and Rogers wear very forced smiles during the grisly routine. Maybe Gene Kelly would have enjoyed it more. Oscar levant plays Oscar Levant – wise-cracking, surrounded by statuesque blondes, chain-smoking, singing like a rusty gate. He gets to play the Sabre Dance and a massively truncated account of the Tchaikovsky piano concerto as well. “Shoes With Wings On” is a good novelty solo number for Astaire. There is also a throw-away tap routine that Astaire and Rogers rehearse for no real reason at one point, unless it was that the management thought there had been too much dialogue.