Fred Astaire, who died at age 88 on Monday, generally received great reviews for his dancing films of the 1930s and 1940s. Here are excerpts of what some critics had to say about his better remembered films--judged when they were new, not as the classics we think of today:
'Flying Down to Rio'
By Mordaunt Hall, New York Times, 1933
An impressive series of scenes are devoted to a dance known as the Carioca. During this interlude that nimble-toed Fred Astaire and the charming Ginger Rogers give a performance of this Carioca. The music is delightful, and besides Mr. Astaire and Miss Rogers many other persons dance the extraordinarily rhythmic Carioca, one feature of which happens to be that of the couples pressing their foreheads together as they glide around the floor.
'The Gay Divorcee'
By Andre Sennwald, New York Times, 1934
Last season it was the Carioca which persuaded the foolhardy to bash their heads together. Now the athletic RKO-Radio strategists have created the Continental, an equally strenuous routine in which you confide your secret dreams to your partner under the protective camouflage of the music.
For expert instruction consult the agile team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in 'The Gay Divorcee,' which put everybody in a bright humor at the Radio City Music Hall yesterday. According to the song writers:
"It has a passion, the Continental, an invitation to moonlight and romance; it's quite the fashion, the Continental, because you tell of your love while you dance."
Anyhow, it provides Mr. Astaire with a musical theme to match his nimble feet, although, when executed domestically, it probably will lack something of his polish.
By "Bige.," Variety, 1935
As with "The Gay Divorcee," they'll be watching the bottom of the screen whenever Astaire is on, often but not too often. When not dancing in 'Roberta' Astaire is trying for laughs, and he can 'light' comedy with the best of them. Which makes it a lot safer for Astaire in pictures in case they ever tire of the stepping.
In Ginger Rogers, and as long as he can continue dancing on the screen, Astaire has found an ideal partner. Miss Rogers dances well enough to be able to hold her own in the stepping numbers, which is something when dancing with Astaire. Besides which she looks better and works better with each succeeding picture.
The Film Daily, (no byline)
Fred Astaire dances, Ginger Rogers and Astaire dance, Astaire sings, Miss Rogers sings, Irene Dunne sings, beautiful gowns that draw nothing but ah's and oh's, in fact some creations that drew applause, Astaire dances, Rogers and Astaire dance, and you have the wow you want--"Roberta."
By Andre Sennwald, New York Times
The work is a model for urbanity in the musical films and Mr. Astaire, the debonair master of light comedy and the dance, is its chief ornament. To watch him skipping on effortless cat's feet across a dance floor is to experience one of the major delights of the contemporary cinema. For Mr. Astaire's dancing is not only an aesthetic excitement, but also comedy of a unique and lofty order.
By the Boulevardier, Screen & Radio Weekly, 1935
Beside his great artistry, 16 weeks of rehearsing and working plus endless enthusiasm have enabled Fred Astaire to give his legion of admirers one perfect round of entertainment. For the first time we get to see enough of Astaire's dancing, which is a big order. But even if he hadn't danced a single step, his work as a light comedian would have sent any audience away wreathed in smiles . . . Irving Berlin's music was beautiful. Half the preview audience was unconsciously humming "Cheek to Cheek" as the crowd left the theater.
By Andre Sennwald, New York Times
Fred Astaire, the dancing master, and Miss Rogers, his ideal partner, bring all their joyous gifts to the new song-and-dance show at the Radio City Music Hall . . . .
Last year, this column suggested that Miss Jessie Matthews would make a better partner for the debonair star than our own home girl. Please consider the matter dropped. Miss Rogers, improving magnificently from picture to picture, collaborates perfectly with Mr. Astaire in "Top Hat" and is entitled to keep the job for life.
By "Sid," Variety
The theatres will hold their own world series with this one. It can't miss and the reasons are three--Fred Astaire, Irving Berlin's songs and sufficient comedy between numbers to hold the film together.
But on story "Top Hat" is a masquerade, and behind the very thin mask is "Gay Divorcee." That won't make any difference because "Roberta" has spaced "Divorcee" and "Hat" while Astaire's routines, his singing and Berlin's melodies and lyrics are of such strength as to smother any other consideration. It's Irving Berlin's initial film chore and the first time he and Astaire have ever worked together, stage or screen, the result being a piece of work worth everything it will get and it'll be plenty . . . .