Film Festival: Cruise Ship Romance
Shall We Dance (1937) is the seventh pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This time he is the star of a Russian ballet troupe and Ginger is the famous tap and jazz dancer he admires. Traveling on a cruise ship is a huge piece of the plot.
I’ve always loved the fantasy life of people cruising on ships in the old days. Dressing up for dinner, meeting all the strangers, and the romance of the sea just get to me. Add in Fred and Ginger dancing onboard and I’m set!
Shall We Dance is the George and Ira Gershwin ballet musical answer to Rodgers and Hart’s big hit on Broadway, On Your Toes. On Your Toes had George Balanchine and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. Shall We Dance has choreography by Hermes Pan, a specialty by Harriet Hoctor, and They Can’t Take That Away from Me.
Shall We Dance begins with a ballet company rehearsing in Paris. Petrov, aka Pete Peters (Fred Astaire) is practicing privately – he’s actually tap dancing to modern music and he doesn’t want anyone to know. His friend Jeff (Edward Everett Horton) discovers his secret and is outraged.
“I forbid that! That’s not art! –Maybe it isn’t. Perhaps it’s just the Philadelphia in me. Oh, Jeff, I wish we could combine the technique of the ballet with the warmth and passion of this other mood.” –Jeff and Petrov
Peter/Petrov has developed a celebrity crush on Linda Keene (Ginger Rogers) and he is delaying the ballet troupe leaving for New York until he gets a chance to meet Linda. He manages to make it to her apartment just as she is having a meltdown over all her leading men falling in love with her. She makes a scheme to get married and leave show business.
“Petrov? What’s a Petrov? –Just the Russian ballet’s greatest dancer! –Oh fine! Well tell him to go back to Moscow. – The gentleman seems very anxious to see you, miss. –Well I’ve got enough troubles without adding a dizzy Russian to them. Just another dancer to swoon in my arms! That’s all I need to make things perfect! A simpering toe dancer!” –Linda, Arthur, and Thai
Peter finds out that Linda is going to sail to New York on the Queen Anne and arranges to go, too. Meanwhile, Denise, aka Lady Tarrington, has come back to the company to try to hook up with a very unwilling Peter.
Shall We Dance on the cruise ship
On board, the ballet company uses one of the decks to rehearse. Jeff can’t find Peter because he is off working on his jazz with the crew in the engine room. Slap That Bass is one of my favorite Astaire numbers. The sounds and rhythm of the machinery of the ship are used in the music and dancing. Fred sings and dances with the African American crew members who work below decks.
The kennel for dogs on the cruise is on one of the decks. George Gershwin came up with a delightful piece of music, Walking the Dog Promenade, for the people walking their dogs. Peter borrows dogs so he can meet up with Linda walking her pet.
Seeking publicity for herself, Denise starts a rumor in the newspapers that Linda and Peter are married. The media frenzy blows up into Linda having a baby. She’s furious and arranges to fly to New York on the mail plane.
“You couldn’t have explained her embarrassment and humiliation. Now she’s gonna get married. –Married? – Yes. Married to a Park Avenue cluck with the longest yacht and the shortest chin every christened. You’ve driven her to that!” –Arthur and Peter
Cecil Flintridge (Eric Blore) welcomes Linda back to her apartment in New York. He has set up one of her bedrooms as a nursery for a surprise. Cecil also has booked Peter and Jeff to stay next door. Poor Linda can’t get away from this situation!
More songs to enjoy: Beginner’s Luck, They All Laughed, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off (the famous roller skate dance in Central Park), They Can’t Take That Away From Me, and Shall We Dance.
“They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother when they said that man could fly / they told Marconi wireless was a phony ” –Linda
As in many of the Astaire-Rogers musicals, Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore add great supporting roles and comedy.
Resource links for Shall We Dance
- Shall We Dance (1937) from IMDb
- Fred Astaire biography from Turner Classic Movies
- Ginger Rogers biography from Turner Classic Movies
- The Gershwin Brothers from Gershwin Enterprises
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