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George Stevens
Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Victor Moore
Writing Credits:
Howard Lindsay, Allan Scott

A performer and gambler travels to New York City to raise the $25,000 he needs to marry his fiancée, only to become entangled with a beautiful aspiring dancer.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English PCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 103 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 6/11/2019

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian John Mueller
• 1980/1982 Interviews with Actor Ginger Rogers
• 1982 Interview with Actor Fred Astaire
• 1982 Interview with Choreographer Hermes Pan
• 2019 Interview with Director’s Son George Stevens Jr.
• 2019 Interview with Film Historian Mia Mask
• “In Full Swing” Featurette
• Booklet


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Swing Time: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1936)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 24, 2019)

With 1936’s Swing Time, we get a look at Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their prime. Pro dancer John “Lucky” Garnett (Astaire) decides to leave his stage show to marry Margaret Watson (Betty Furness), but his partners conspire to prevent this and succeed – in a way.

When he arrives hours late for the ceremony, Lucky doesn’t get hitched on the day he planned but he manages to win another chance. If he can go to New York and succeed in business, he can return and take Margaret as his bride.

Lucky and mealy-mouthed Pop (Victor Moore) wind up in the Big Apple with only a quarter between them. As Pop tries to get some smokes, a misunderstanding ensues, and Lucky cheeses off pretty young dance instructor Penny Carrol (Ginger Rogers).

Despite her antagonism toward him, Lucky becomes enamored of her, and he pursues her at her place of business. He initially pretends he can’t dance so she’ll have to teach him, but the truth quickly emerges and the pair tries to get a gig as a dance team. The movie follows their professional path as well as the ups and downs of their budding romance.

If you want to enjoy Time, then don’t devote much time to its analysis. Do you want a crisp plot-driven tale with indelible characters and situations?

If so, then you should look elsewhere. Time offers an incredibly slight tale so flimsy that it could blow over at any moment.

Despite – or maybe even because - of the movie’s lighter than air construction, it proves to be a consistent delight. Of course, much of the credit comes from its stars. There’s a reason Astaire and Rogers remain the most famous dance team of all-time: they displayed immense chemistry and lit up the screen whenever together.

We see that heat here, as they connect from minute one and become a terrific little pair. They could remake a Mentos commercial and create something inventive and delightful.

I also like the movie’s supporting cast. Moore’s Pop and Helen Broderick’s Mabel – Penny’s older, semi-homely friend – both create quirky but enjoyable characters. Indeed, Pop should probably be incredibly annoying with his muttering and stammering, but Moore brings great charm to the role and never makes him irritating or unlikable.

“Likable” and “charming” are probably the best words to describe Swing Time. This isn’t a film with much depth, so it lives and dies with its stars.

Astaire and Rogers interact so nicely and create so many enjoyable dance sequences that they carry the flick. Quick-witted, funny and entertaining, this is a very pleasant ride.

The Disc Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Swing Time appears in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The transfer showed its age.

Sharpness was mediocre. The movie usually offered decent delineation, but it could be rather soft at times.

Though that tendency wasn’t overwhelming, I thought it meant the film wasn’t as crisp and taut as I’d like. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge haloes remained absent.

Occasional print flaws materialized. For instance, around the 10-minute mark, I saw fine scratches and some small spots.

Similar lines materialized a couple additional times as well. Most of the film lacked source defects, though, so don’t expect many problems in that regard.

Blacks seemed reasonably deep and taut, while shadows demonstrated nice delineation. Because I trust Criterion, this was probably as good an image as we could expect, but it still felt mediocre.

In addition, the LPCM monaural soundtrack of Swing Time proved satisfactory but dated. Speech came across as a little brittle but remained intelligible and reasonably concise. Music showed good clarity, as it showed limited dimensionality but seemed clean and bright.

Similar thoughts greeted the effects, which were acceptably clear. The track lacked background noise or source issues. This was a pretty good mix for its age.

How did the Criterion Blu-ray compare to the 2005 DVD? Audio seemed a bit cleaner and clearer, and the same went for visuals.

This meant the Blu-ray suffered from fewer print flaws and it also showed superior definition. Though this was an erratic image, it offered a clear improvement over the problematic DVD.

The Criterion disc mixes old and new extras, and we open with an audio commentary from film historian John Mueller. He offers a running, screen-specific chat.

Mueller gets into cast and crew, music and dance sequences, story, pacing and cut scenes, and other production notes. He also gives us a look at the Astaire/Rogers dance team and their history of work together.

All of this means Mueller presents a good overview of the important factors. He offers nice insights into the dance scenes as well as plenty of other elements.

Though he drags as the commentary progresses, he remains informative much of the time. This becomes a pretty good track.

Under Ginger Rogers, we find two archival clips that feature the actor. We get part of a 1980 audio interview (21:06) as well as an excerpt from a 1982 video chat (4:09).

In these, Rogers discusses her career, with some emphasis on Swing Time. Actually, the 1982 piece focuses more on Time, whereas the 1980 piece seems more general. Both bring a collection of good insights.

With In Full Swing, we locate a 2019 reel that goes for 40 minutes, 56 seconds and includes notes from music critic Gary Giddins, dance critic Brian Seibert, and film historian Deborah Grace Winer.

“Full” examines aspects of the movie’s song/dance scenes as well as the Astaire/Rogers pairing. The program gives us a solid overview and provides a lot of information.

Another 2019 piece, George Stevens Jr. offers a seven-minute, 21-second interview with the director’s son. The younger Stevens discusses his father’s career, with an emphasis on Swing Time. This becomes a short but engaging reel.

From 1982, Fred Astaire brings a two-minute, four-second conversation with the actor. Conducted by Stevens Jr., Astaire talks about some experiences during Swing Time. It’s awfully short but it’s still fun to hear from Astaire.

Another circa 1982 interview from the younger Stevens, Hermes Pan lasts five minutes, four seconds. The film’s choreographer discusses aspects of his work on the film, with an emphasis on his time with Astaire and Stevens. Pan offers some insights.

A 2019 program, an interview with film scholar Mia Mask lasts eight minutes, 34 seconds. She talks about the history of blackface in entertainment as well as its use in Swing Time. Mask provides an informative synopsis.

Finally, we get a booklet that contains photos, credits and an essay from critic Imogen Sara Smith. While not one of Criterion’s best efforts, it finishes the set on a satisfactory note.

A light, charming musical, Swing Time floats to us on the backs of its stars. Without them it’d flop, but with Astaire and Rogers, it turns into a consistent delight. The Blu-ray comes with erratic visuals, relatively good audio and a pretty informative set of supplements. Time delights.

To rate this film visit the original review of SWING TIME

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