Oh, I won’t deny that George Stevens’ Swing Time (1936) is a better film, and I know there are plenty who find Mark Sandrich’s own estimable Top Hat (1935) superior. But there’s a giddy freshness to this first Astaire-Rogers vehicle, The Gay Divorcee (1934), that those films lack. The story is no better than it has to be. Mimi Glossop (Rogers) and Guy Holden (Astaire) meet cute when her dithery Aunt Hortense (Alice Brady) closes a bit of Mimi’s dress in a steamer trunk at dockside. Naturally, he rips the dress trying to extricate it. He’s smitten, she’s not—or she pretends she’s not. As it turns out, Mimi is in need of a divorce and Hortense fixes her up with an old flame, Egbert “Pinky” Fitzgerald (Edward Everett Horton), for a lawyer. Egbert, of course, just happens to be Guy’s best friend, and takes Guy along to a seaside hotel where he’s arranged for Mimi to be “discovered” with a co-respondent, Rodolfo Tonetti (Erik Rhodes). Naturally, there’s a mix-up and Mimi thinks Guy is the paid faux adulterer. Awkward romance—but romance all the same—ensues, mostly because Guy completely seduces her by dancing with her to “Night and Day.” Sure, it’s a romance that may work out only in the movies, but it certainly works better if you’re Astaire and Rogers. In addition, you get a huge production number, “The Continental,” which lasts a whopping 17-plus minutes. No wonder it won the first Oscar for Best Song.
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