Swing Time

AFI Rank: #90 (10th anniversary ranking)
Year Released: 1936
Director: George Stevens
Actors: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers

I watched Swing Time as part of my project to watch all movies on the AFI Top 100 listing. So this review focuses on the movie's place in that listing and how the list has changed between the first and second versions.

Interestingly, Swing Time didn't make it onto the first AFI Top 100 list they made - but when they did a revision of the list ten years later, Swing Time was now at the #90 spot.

Certainly I want to say first that Swing Time is praised for having fantastic dancing in it. Some feel that this movie has the best ever dance scene between Astaire and Rogers. If you're a fan of dancing, you'll see some of the best of the best in this movie.

Part of what makes this intriguing to me is that on the original listing Jazz Singer was at spot #90. When they did the re-vote, Jazz Singer was completely kicked out - and Swing Time had taken its spot at #90. Jazz Singer was famous for its holding some of the first-ever spoken words in a movie, true. But it was perhaps more famous for its black face scene that brought black face to the masses. There was a lot of grief given to the AFI for celebrating black face, as many felt it was demeaning. So here we have Jazz Singer evicted - but we have Swing Time brought in, which also features black face. Many would say the Swing Time version, a tribute to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, is quite tastefully done.

At the same time that Swing Time came onto the list, "An American in Paris", another dance-filled movie, got dropped off entirely, even though it had been on the first listing at spot #68. It's a pretty far fall to go from #68 to nothing. It makes me wonder if they also felt that Swing Time better represented dancing talents. It handled two issues at once.

Of course there are other dance-related movies on the AFI Top 100. West Side Story is reliably between 40-50 on both lists. Singing in the Rain is in the top 10 on both lists. Cabaret got added on. So the AFI voters definitely enjoy dance related shows. Swing Time is in quite good company here.

One odd thing here is that, while there are two quite strong, wonderful female characters, they barely talk with each other! Even when they're alone together in their apartment, all they talk about is the men hanging out outside the door. Their lives revolve around the men.

I also felt fairly disappointed in the plot line. I realize romantic comedies can be silly sometimes. But here the man is engaged to a woman. First he literally leaves her at the altar - but she promptly forgives him and says she'll wait for him. So he heads off - and promptly is chasing another woman. In less than five minutes after arriving in New York City. True, in the end he relucantly considers marrying his fiance, but only because he's been "caught" by her. I wish they could have had a storyline that didn't involve him being that way.

Still, it's hard to fault a romantic comedy for being overly silly. So I'll say that I enjoyed the dancing a lot, that I'm glad this got onto the new version of the AFI listing, and hopefully that will encourage more people to experience it.

Buy Swing Time from Amazon.com

AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100