Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Sky's The Limit

Fred Astaire is an Air Force pilot on leave who meets photographer Joan Leslie. He won't tell her he's a war hero, so she believes he's a layabout. Also starring Robert Ryan and Robert Benchley.

This is an unusual Astaire film. For one thing, it is less brightly lit. Some scenes have almost a film noirish look. Astaire, though, is very funny and appealing here. He's got more of a wisecracking personality; he even wears a cowboy hat! There's also the return of Eric Blore as an English butler, but unfortunately he exits after one short scene. Why on Earth include Blore and not give him anything funny to say or something for him to raise an eyebrow over? The comic relief is rather given to Robert Benchley, who in one scene does a confused presentation of aircraft production that I suppose is meant to be funny, and lasts forever, but that completely sinks like a stone. There's also some problems with the story. Why exactly can't Astaire tell Leslie he's a pilot? And why does he fall for her but then try to set her up with Benchley? An extra polish of the script would have helped. However, there is a fantastic scene of Astaire in a hotel bar, drunk as a skunk, singing One For My Baby, written for this film, and then doing a dance and trashing the whole place. It's as if it was Fred Astaire's evil twin brother! The film is worth watching for this scene alone. The ending, at an airport, where Leslie finally finds out the truth, would not look out of place in a Milton Caniff strip.

The film was a flop when it was first released, thought to be too dark; it's one of Astaire's least known films. Which is a shame. It's not perfect, but is definitely worth a rediscovery, and has become my favourite next to Top Hat.

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