Swing Time Blu-ray Review

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"Sure Fred Astaire is great, but Ginger Rogers did everything he did... backwards and in high heels."

by Casimir Harlow Jul 4, 2019 at 9:16 AM

  • Movies & TV review

    Swing Time Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £16.99

    Swing Time Film Review

    The 1936 all-time classic Fred Astaire / Ginger Rogers dance musical Swing Time is packed with memorable tunes and fabulously choreographed routines.

    The Astaire/Rogers partnership would dominate the 30s and whilst Astaire would remain the more famous of the duo, dancing his way into his late 60s, and dipping into a couple of straight roles, like The Towering Inferno in his latter years, after the end of their union, Rogers would actually almost immediately diverge into dramatic roles and go on to not only win the Academy Award for Best Actress but actually also become the highest paid actress in Hollywood at the time. And let's not forget the famous saying now associated with her Astaire/Rogers partnership, which basically reminded fans that she had to do everything her dance partner had to do, only backwards and in high heels!

    Nevertheless, the two would arguably be best remembered for their work together, the names synonymous with one another (you don't think Fred Astaire without thinking Ginger Rogers and vice versa) and, over the course of some nine features, it was easy to see why. The first five were hits, reaching their peak with 1936's Swing Time, which boasted a quartet of their best remembered - and arguably best choreographed - dance routines, as well as some all-time classic songs which even those unfamiliar with the movie will likely know the words to.

    These 30s Rogers/Astaire features were all fairly familiar and formulaic, but there was something wholesome and fresh about them nonetheless

    The story sees Astaire's dancer (and extremely lucky gambler) delayed intentionally on his wedding day by his co-dancers, who don't want him to quit the show. Although the wedding is called off, it's only temporary, and he's dispatched to the Big Apple to find fame and fortune, whereupon his future father-in-law will concede to the marriage. Of course, once there, he happens upon Ginger Rogers' dance instructor, and they soon end up not only dancing together but falling for one another, complicating both of their lives considerably in the process.

    These 30s Rogers/Astaire features were all fairly familiar and formulaic, but there was something wholesome and fresh about them nonetheless; the two sharing remarkable chemistry no matter how many times they had to pretend to meet cute, clash with one another, and then fall in love. Of course, it's the song and dance routines that really wow, with the classic lyrics "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again" (which President Obama paraphrased in his inaugural speech) and "Because I love you... just the way you look tonight" (which many might remember from Polanski's Chinatown) becoming utterly timeless, even though many who know the words probably never realised they came from this film. Arguably the pinnacle of their pairings, Swing Time is an all-time classic.

    Swing Time Blu-ray Picture

    Swing Time (1936) Swing Time Blu-ray Picture
    Swing Time comes to UK Blu-ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection, who bring it to UK shores hot on the heels of last month's US debut, delivering it with a very impressive new 2K digital restoration for this 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation, which maintains the movie's original theatrical academy ratio of 1.37:1.

    A superb example of vintage restoration

    Given that the movie is well into its 80s now, the presentation is absolutely fantastic, enjoying the intricacies of the lavish sets and ball rooms; the exquisite use of shadow play; and the perfect hair and garb of its leads. Skin textures are even revealing, whilst the black and white cinematography is also impeccable, playing with the superior choices of tone for contrast (the very literal black and white outfits affording the extremes, whilst Ginger Rogers' then-blonde curls still belie those fiery roots lapping up around the edges, even in monochrome). The image isn't flawless; softness creeps into a few shots, and reminds you of the vintage, but given just how generally and predominantly impressive it is - clean and almost utterly devoid of print damage - this is a superb example of vintage restoration.

    Swing Time Blu-ray Sound

    Swing Time (1936) Swing Time Blu-ray Sound
    Perhaps not quite the revelation that the 2K remastered video is, but impressive in its own right nonetheless

    The accompanying uncompressed monaural audio track is a surprisingly engaging affair, perhaps not quite the revelation that the 2K remastered video is, but impressive in its own right nonetheless. Dialogue remains firmly prioritised, headlining the piece and remaining clearly and coherently disseminated throughout, whilst effects allow for plenty of atmospheric offerings, from the trains to the bustling streets of the Big Apple, with the distinctive tap of Astaire's shoes (and Rogers' heels) offering a percussive backdrop to the song tracks which easily remain the highlight of the track - and arguably the film. There's no clipping here, nor any tinniness at the higher end of the spectrum, and overall it's a very good aural accompaniment.

    Swing Time Blu-ray Extras

    Swing Time (1936) Swing Time Blu-ray Extras
    As usual, Criterion goes above and beyond in the extras department, with a bumper selection headlined by an archival Audio Commentary from Astaire expert John Mueller, and a number of archival Interviews too, including ones with the stars Astaire and Rogers, as well as the choreographer.

    As usual, Criterion goes above and beyond in the extras department

    A new interview with George Stevens Jr. reflects on his father's work (the director of Swing Time), whilst In Full Swing is a Featurette on the exquisitely choreographed dance sequences in the movie. There's a more revealing look at the controversial Bojangles sequence with an interview with a film scholar talking about the use of blackface at the time - Astaire's only foray into this.

    Swing Time Blu-ray Verdict

    Swing Time (1936) Swing Time Blu-ray Verdict
    Arguably the pinnacle of their pairings, Swing Time is an all-time classic

    Criterion brings Swing Time to UK Blu-ray only a month after its US bow, with the same stunning 2K remastered video and strong audio, as well as the same welcome selection of worthy extras. Even for those who aren't familiar with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers the artists but know the inseparably paired names, the film has plenty of outstanding dance sequences to wow and also some absolute classic song tracks, the lyrics of which still echo down through history to this day. Highly recommended.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £16.99

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