Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Aug 6, 2005.

  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

    May 7, 2001
    Likes Received:
    Swing Time

    Studio: Warner Brothers
    Year: 1938
    Rated: Not Rated
    Film Length: 104 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 Academy
    Audio: DD Monaural
    Color/B&W: B&W
    Languages: English
    Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
    MSRP: $19.97
    Package: Single disc in a Keepcase

    The Feature:
    On the heels of what appears to be the enormously successful release of "The Thin Man Collection", Warner is set to release another boxed set of classic titles. Several of the highly anticipated Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films are set to debut on DVD for the first time in a set entitled, "The Astaire and Rogers Collection: Volume One". Included in the collection are: Top Hat (1935), Follow The Fleet (1936), Shall We Dance (1937), The Barkleys Of Broadway (1949) and the featured film, Swing Time (1936). While the titles are available individually (MSRP of $19.97 each), the Collection lists for $59.92.



    Truth be told, as with most musicals, the nonsensical romantic plot is rather contrived and really, inconsequential. It is built mostly around a series of wonderfully-choreographed dance numbers, duets, Art Deco sets and memorable songs. As a dancer turned gambler, John "Lucky" Garnett (played by Fred Astaire) is suffering cold feet on his wedding day. Astaire's bride-to-be, Margaret Watson (played by Betty Furness) will give him a second chance but challenges him to raise $25,000 to prove to her father that he can support - and is willing to marry his fiancée. Astaire naturally tries to avoid earning that amount once he falls in love with dance instructor, "Penny" Caroll (played by Ginger Rogers). Numerous complications ensue, leading to the "second time's the charm" climax, with Ginger escaping her own wedding to wealthy Ricky Romero (played by Georges Metaxa) in order to be reunited with Astaire.



    The sixth of RKO's Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers pairings, Swing Time was directed by George Stevens. Screened during the height of the Depression Era, the film also served an inspirational purpose for the spirits of the country, especially with the song-dance "Pick Yourself Up." The love scenes between the stars, composed mostly of break-ups and reconciliations, are played out in movement to music. They dance and act flawlessly together in three duets, expressing various emotional phases of their relationship - attraction and courtship, celebratory happiness of their love, and painful separation: the charming and exuberant "Pick Yourself Up," the instrumental "Waltz in Swing Time," and their final eloquent, anguished dance duet, "Never Gonna Dance" - one of the peak examples of their entire dance partnership. The highlight, however (at least for this reviewer) is the inventive tribute to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, whom Astaire revered.



    The Feature: 5/5

    Gorgeous… This is a super looking (and sounding) transfer that is presented in its original AR of 1.37:1 Academy. Without question, the highlight of this transfer is the grayscale and shadow detail, as black levels are extremely deep, falling just short of perfect. Whites were clean and crisp. Very impressive.

    Image detail was slightly soft throughout the entire film, with occasional instances of sharpness and we’d have no reason to expect more from a film of its vintage. Overall however, very pleasing. There was a reasonable amount of depth and dimensionality to the picture rendering a nice film-like image. Contrast was a little on the high side but had very little effect on the overall picture.

    As is typical with many of the RKO films, there was a minimal amount of fine to moderate film grain throughout the picture which was appropriate. There were occasional instances of dust, debris and dirt that remained but never became intrusive or distracting. Scratches are evident but never bothersome. Light shimmer was evident but infrequent and thankfully, there were no signs of any compression errors or artifacting etc. There were only occasional instances of light speckle.

    Overall, a very nice job.

    Video: 4.5/5

    The soundtrack provided is a Dolby Digital monaural track that does an admirable job of completing the task.

    The track was free of any hiss or other distractions and the upper end of the scale doesn’t appear to have been tampered with as a result.

    The overall sound of the track was rather natural but never became edgy or shrill particularly during the many songs that accompany the film. The clarity of dialogue was crystal clear and bold. There was a little more depth to the overall range - slightly more than I anticipated.

    Beyond the limitations of the period, the track handles the material with ease and without any problems.

    Audio: 4.5/5

    Special Features:
    [*] Commentary By John Mueller. The Astaire biographer does an admirable job at keeping this feature, mostly screen specific. He starts with the opening credits offering up factoids on many of the crew members and their involvement with the field. He also spends a fair amount of time discussing the music by Kern and Fields. Interesting, as Mr. Mueller also goes into detail about "second act lag", (or the “11 o'clock number”), a phenomenon that many musicals seem to suffer. Although Mr. Mueller isn't the easiest gentleman in the world to listen to, he does come well prepared and unleashes a wealth of informative tidbits. Good job.
    [*] The Swing of Things: "Swing Time" Step by Step is a new feature that was produced for the DVD which features (among others), Rick Jewell (RKO Biographer), John Mueller, Leonard Maltin, Larry Billman (Astaire Biographer), Barrie Chase, Hermes Pan (from archival footage) as well as a number of young Broadway performers who've portrayed various roles of Astaire & Rogers. Interesting little feature which discusses the various dances and styles of dance that occur throughout the film - we even get some demonstrations from the young performers. Duration: 14:47 minutes.
    [*] The next feature is entitled Hotel a la Swing which is an old Vitaphone short. The short itself, is in very nice shape. Duration: 21:37 minutes.
    [*] Bingo Crosbyana is a terrific old Freleng MM animated short. In a sequel of sorts from 1935’s The Lady In Red, various insects have invaded a kitchen. After playing with the food, one bug croons like Bing Crosby and then does some very showy flying which gets him all the girls. A spider drops down, and he runs in fear, leaving his girlfriend vulnerable. The other bugs manage to get the spider, eventually trapping it on flypaper. It is this short that prompted the threat of a lawsuit from Bing Crosby against Warner Brothers for having a cowardly character in the cartoon based on Bing Crosby's voice and image. It doesn't look like it has seen much work in terms of restoration or cleanup, however the colors are mostly vivid. The closing title card however, doesn't look to be the original. I’ll let the animation aficionados offer up their opinions. Duration: 7:50 minutes.
    [*] Lastly, the Theatrical Trailer is included which is in very good condition. Duration: 2:37 minutes.

    A solid commentary, a vintage short, a MM animated short, a newly produced featurette and the film's original trailer.... what more could you ask for to accompany a film almost 70 years old...?

    Special Features: 5/5

    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**

    Final Thoughts:
    When covering titles from boxed sets, this reviewer tends to choose titles that aren't necessarily the heavy hitters among the group, however, Swing Time is a title that begged to be covered immediately. The film is considered by many, to be perhaps the best of the Astaire/Rogers movies. Without question (beyond the outstanding performances of the stars themselves), the director has to take much of the credit, as it was George Stevens (in his first musical directorial), who recognized and captured perfectly, the emotion of their pairing. The music by Jerome Kern (with lyrics by Dorothy Fields) is the other essential ingredient. Though the pair only made ten films together, Warner's label of "Volume One" pretty much guarantees we'll see the remaining five titles in "Volume Two" in the near future.

    Despite the print sometimes showing its age, this is a terrific looking transfer with near flawless audio. The 70 year old film has more supplements than many current day releases, so no complaints there. I suspect fans of the legendary dancing duo will want to add this one to their library - and so they should.

    Overall Rating: 4.5/5 (not an average)

    Highly Recommended...!!

    Release Date: August 16th, 2005
  2. Paul_Scott

    Paul_Scott Lead Actor

    Jul 19, 2002
    Likes Received:
    sounds great Herb. looking forward to it.
    the Criterion LD was, i think, a blind buy for me way back when, but quickly became one of my most treasured discs. i sold it off about 4 yrs ago and had thought it was just around the corner ever since.

    also good to hear that it looks so good. a couple years back, when Warner was saying the reason we weren't seeing the RKOs showing up was the poor condition of most of them, this title and Out Of The Past were the two i fixated on, thinking they must really be looking pretty ratty.
    OOTP blew me away last year, and Swing Time sounds solid acording to you and Robert H.
    curious as to how the Lewtons will look, but so far we're doing pretty damn OK i think.
  3. Brian PB

    Brian PB Supporting Actor

    Jan 31, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Astaire's "Bojangles of Harlem" number is arguably the greatest routine of his career, as well as my personal favorite. Some will argue that it's very politically-uncorrect by today's standards, since Astaire dances in blackface. But the more important point is that Astaire doesn't play it for laughs or exaggeated parody; it's instead a heartfelt tribute to a dancer (Bill "Bojangles" Robinson) whom Astaire greatly admired.
  4. DeeF

    DeeF Screenwriter

    Jun 19, 2002
    Likes Received:
    I've bought the set, and I must agree: Swing Time is utter perfection, one of the best expressions of joy the movies ever produced.

Share This Page