The Best of M-G-M: The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)

Ginger and Fred on Broadway

source: MGM

When discussing famous dynamic duos of yesteryear, there are a number of different couples that spring to mind; Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Martin and Lewis are more than enough to satisfy anyone’s movie watching sensibilities.

Perhaps one of the more popular and sexier pairings is the timeless coupling of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

Filming 10 movies in the span of 17 years (9 with RKO and just 1 with MGM) Rogers and Astaire were truly a force to be reckoned with. If you’ve ever heard the saying “She gave him sex, while he gave her class” more often than not that quote can be attributed to their relationship.

From Top Hat to The Gay Divorcee, everyone and their mother (whether they like to admit or not) has a favorite Rogers and Astaire film. One picture that doesn’t nearly that get enough recognition and love is their musical swan-song, The Barkleys of Broadway.


Released in 1949, The Barkleys of Broadway is a comedic look at the hardships of being a Broadway star and the unintentional consequences and stresses of working with your significant other.

Ginger and Fred on Broadway 2

source: MGM

In the film, Rogers and Astaire play married couple Josh and Dinah Barkley. It’s the opening night of their new play in downtown Manhattan, and despite getting a standing ovation from the audience, behind the scenes tells a much different story.

As as the Barkleys step behind the satin curtain, quickly deafening the roar of the crowd the veneer of stability is tarnished when we find out that Josh is irate at his wife’s brazen flirtation with French playwright Jacques Pierre Barredout (played by Jacques François.)

Naturally being a red-blooded, American male, Josh doesn’t take too kindly to some foreigner ogling his very attractive wife. In retaliation, he confronts Dinah – and not her French boy toy – about the debacle, which only fans the flames even further.

In actuality, Dinah was speaking with Jacques after he made an off the cuff remark about her lack of dramatic roles. Tensions increase further when later that night at an art gallery, another artist compares Josh to Svengali and that Dinah’s entire career hinged on Josh’s command.

After a couple of days of contemplation, Dinah found herself agreeing with the Frenchmen and secretly began shopping scripts with the hope of starring in one.

Astaire and Rogers on Broadway

source: MGM

One weekend, Dinah would get her wish when she and Josh are invited up to Jacques’ bungalow in the cozy fictional town of Danbridge, where he’s celebrating the completion of his new script.

While Josh meanders out into the garden, Dinah questions Jacques’ judgment when she learns that actress Pamela Driscoll (who she’s not very fond of) is cast in the starring role.  Jacques agrees with her sentiments and smoothly asks Dinah if she would like the role instead; guilt-ridden, she accepts his offer.

A couple days later after the twosome returns to New York after their weekend getaway, Josh discovers his wife’s secret when he accidentally sees her rehearsing lines from a script that obviously didn’t pertain to their stage act.

Jumping to a conclusion faster than Wile E. Coyote plots to catch Road Runner, Josh accuses Dinah of having an affair. She scoffs at this accusation and promptly walks out on not only Josh but everything they’ve worked for.

With the freedom to be an independent woman and a chip on her shoulder, Dinah scurries back to Jacques, cementing her place as the new leading actress in his latest play.

Fred and Ginger on Broadway

source: MGM

Josh attempts to perform the next batch of “Barkley” shows alone, while Dinah spends her newfound freedom rehearsing for Jacques’ upcoming play. Seeing as though Dinah spent the majority of her career as a comedic actress, the transition to more serious roles proved to be a challenge.

Things for the Barkleys get worse when their sardonic family friend Ezra Miller (played by Oscar Levant) deceives them into performing together again at a hospital benefit.

Being the iconic duo that they were, their performance receives a standing ovation. Josh suggests that they get back together, feeling a bit nostalgic about their past accomplishments. Dinah rejects his offer, claiming that he’s, “taken her services for granted for too long.”

Fair enough.

But, that doesn’t stop Josh from being a doting husband.

When Dinah isn’t paying attention during rehearsals, Josh has a habit of watching her practice through a small window hidden behind various curtains and props. When he sees her struggling with some of the lines one day, he takes the initiative to call her using a very fake French accent disguised as Barredout using a nearby payphone.

How scary thoughtful!

Astaire and Rogers on Broadway

source: MGM

A few days and many painstaking practices later, Jacques’ play finally premieres. With Josh watching from behind the curtain, he stands in awe of his wife as she pours her heart out on stage.

The play ends and Dinah’s performance passes with flying colors. While tears are being shed and champagne is getting popped backstage, Dinah finds out that it was, in fact, her husband who was giving her the tips that she initially believed were from Barredout.

What Josh thought would be a pleasant surprise for his wife turned out to be one of disgust. Dinah is “shocked and annoyed” at Josh’s harmless ‘prank’ and she admits to him that she was, indeed, having an affair with her director.

Naturally, this leaves Josh absolutely devasted and on the verge tears, until Dinah relents and quickly retracts her statement revealing to her husband that this was just, as he would put it, a ‘harmless prank.’

In the end, the Barkleys reconcile not only as a musical duo but as a couple, thus forgetting all hardships they went through for the past couple of months.

Conclusion and Some Interesting Behind The Scenes Information

Astaire-Rogers on Broadway

source: MGM

The Barkleys of Broadway is a very good musical. It’s not the best, nor is it the worst Astaire/Rogers collaboration, but it holds its own.

Many classic movie fans may not consider it to be on par with some of their other films, but it can still be considered a picture worthy of praise.

The film is impeccably directed and flawlessly paced; there was never a dull moment in this movie. Bringing together Ginger and Fred again for what I thought was an unnecessary nostalgia trip is a decision that should be lauded.

The intriguing thing about this is that the role of Dinah almost went to MGM’s resident musical expert Judy Garland.


In 1948, Astaire and Garland gained raved reviews for their performances in the musical comedy Easter Parade. This prompted producer Arthur Freed to give the ‘go ahead’ to the writing team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green to begin a new screenplay that would reunite Judy and Fred in another musical.

The title? The Barkleys of Broadway.

Things were all going to plan for Freed and Garland until her long battle with depression started to catch up with her, forcing her to drop out of the project. The stars finally aligned when a couple of days later after the first reviews were released for Easter Parade, Rogers sent Freed a telegram congratulating him on his success. 

Fully aware that he needs a replacement for his film – and fast, Freed reached out to Ginger again and delicately asked her if she’d care to work again with her former dance partner.

Ginger-and-Fred on Broadway

source: MGM

Apparently, Ginger was rather irritated the question but it was a necessary evil for Freed. Out of a leading actress for his upcoming movie, desperate times called for desperate measures, right?

Luckily for Freed (and the movie watching public for that matter), Ginger accepted the offer making The Barkleys of Broadway their 10th and final movie together.


As far as musicals go, The Barkleys of Broadway is certainly not the best, but for what it lacks in plot, it more than makes up for it in the chemistry between Astaire and Rogers.

I supposed that’s the biggest appeal of this movie.

It isn’t something you watch to enjoy with friends, it’s a movie you keep hidden away in your personal collection, only bringing it out when you’ve finished binge-watching the rest of the Rogers and Astaire‘s filmography.

A perfect ending to 10 years of cinematic excellence.

 

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Late Nights, Early Flights, Green Tea, and Lisa Carol Fremont

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esource: Paramount Pictures

I adore TCM.

Thanks to Ted Turner‘s genius, thousands of tasty morsels from the wonderful world of classic cinema are merely a couple of remote clicks away. Despite the abundance of good that TCM provides to the starving film fan, there is a downside to having only a handful of movies stored in their archive. Usually, this means that the network has the tendency to replay a lot of movies.

This would irritate me, normally, but there’s always an actor (or director in this case) that’s an exception to this phenomenon.

In this case, it’s Alfred Hitchcock.


A couple of months ago, I was on my way to visit some family members in the northern part of the United States.

I’m an anxious flyer so, naturally, to calm my pre-flight jitters, I turned on TCM just a few hours before my flight left the following morning. Fortunately, all throughout that month, the network decided to sporadically play Hitchcock‘s voyeuristic masterpiece Rear Window in celebration of what would have been Grace Kelly‘s 88th birthday.

Grace's Window

sources: Paramount Pictures

I’ve seen Rear Window about a dozen times on several different occasions (I even own it on Blu-ray) but, for some reason, this viewing felt very unusual.

Instead of enjoying the cheeky humor, incredible sets, and the brilliant screenwriting, I took an active effort at trying to understand the intricate fusion between the character of Lisa Carol Fremont and Grace Kelly – the actress.

As you may know, it has often been said that Grace Kelly had a ‘dual persona.’

This is in reference to the “ice queen” image that plagued her throughout her career. There’s no denying that Kelly was a pretty reserved person in her personal life – depending on which biography you read, but what about her movies?

This is where my re-viewing of Rear Window helped me to understand that this dichotomy that followed her career (and to a lesser extent her private life) wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.


Lisa Carol Fremont as a character was at times rather selfish, stubborn, and oftentimes just plain rude. That’s understandable, of course, when you realize she’s dealing with a man with a proclivity for adventure and a fear of commitment (played to perfection by James Stewart), yet as I was re-watching Grace as Lisa with a different set of eyes, I quickly recognized, “well, of course, she would act this way.”

Alfred Hitchcock specifically picked Grace for this role due to this persona. Lisa was a fashionista, she loves clothing and even would forgo going on a trip with her boyfriend because she didn’t have the “proper attire” for the environment she’d be traveling in.

Who in their right mind would do something like that?

Right! An “ice queen” who gives off an air of entitlement and impenetrability.

Late Night Grace

source: Paramount Pictures

There are some moments in the film where Lisa could be extraordinarily cold and distant, but it only ever happened when she was in crisis or when Jeff wasn’t conforming to her standards of what their relationship should look like.

Grace’s “ice queen persona” helps a lot in this aspect; she was the only actress that could’ve taken this role. Hitchcock deliberately crafted the role of Lisa Carol Fremont for Grace, he knew that if any other woman stepped into that role, the entire tone of the film could have been something that he didn’t intend to mean.

Hitch’ has always carefully crafted his pictures this way, it doesn’t surprise me that he chose Grace for this role. This same sentiment could be applied to her role in 1955’s To Catch a Thief as well.

If it wasn’t for Hitchcock‘s cinema IQ and Grace’s typecast, I don’t believe Rear Window would’ve been as good as it is.

It’s funny, all it took for me to understand this was my fear of flying and my love for overanalyzing movies.

Go figure.

The Influence of Paris On Classic Hollywood Cinema

Hollywood in Paris

source: Paramount Pictures

Lise: Paris has ways of making people forget.

Jerry: Paris? No, not this city. It’s too real and too beautiful. It never lets you forget anything. It reaches in and opens you wide, and you stay that way.

-Leslie Caron as Lise and Gene Kelly as Jerry Mulligan in An American In Paris (1951)

Paris.

Since it’s industrial revolution in the mid-1800s, the self-proclaimed,”City of Lights” has grown to represent a number of different things in the human psyche.

Whether it be the sound of the cobblestone streets beneath your feet as you walk beside the Seine River, the monotone “bonjour” as you stride into your favorite Boulangerie or the thousands of tourists who are jostling with each other in a race to see who can snap the most cliché selfie, Paris has been tourism hot-spot for decades.

In the eyes of the classic film fan, however, Paris holds a special connotation in our hearts.


Arguably starting with Humphrey Bogart‘s legendary quote during the climax of Casablanca, the City of Paris has been a staple in pop culture since the advent of the movie camera. It’s no wonder that many classic film directors have chosen “The City of Love” as the backdrop to several of their movies.

Paris in movies

“……French New Wave at it’s finest.”

So, what makes Paris so special?

In the classic film sense, it encapsulates everything that’s so extraordinary about that specific era in movie history.

Paris is the place where a lonely writer can turn into an international marvel, where an ex-GI can chase his dreams of being a painter, and where a homely librarian can turn into a top model; Paris is the place where dreams become reality.


There are several movies that embody this feeling.

An American in Paris, Funny Face, and Moulin Rouge! are some of the better examples of this phenomenon. Other films in this category include The Last Time I Saw Paris, Les Girls, and 1958’s Academy Award Winning film GigiEven the plot of light-hearted romantic comedies like Stanley Donen‘s Charade has a feeling of improbability and absurdity that could only to recreated in a city like Paris.

 

Paris in Hollywood 2

When good Americans die, they go to Paris.” 
― Oscar Wilde

In summation, Paris’ importance to classic Hollywood has been immense. Filmmakers, actors, actresses, producers, and screenwriters have all come together to help create a lore to this city that’s been so prevalent in our movie history.

The next time you happen to view a film that takes place in the ‘City of Love’, be sure to take a good look at its surroundings, you never know what magic Paris will conjure up this time.