Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1940. Boris Morros Productions. Original story by Frank Cavett, Screenplay by Elaine Ryan, Ian McLellan Hunter, contributor Johnny Mercer. Cinematography by Theodor Sparkuhl. Produced by Boris Morros. Music by Artie Shaw. Production Design by Boris Leven. Costume Design by Helen Taylor. Film Editing by Jack Dennis. Academy Awards 1940.
Fred Astaire and Burgess Meredith are the very definition of frenemies, both trumpet players who lead a highly successful college band but are always ready to do each other dirt when fighting over a gig or a girl. They have been purposely flunking in school for seven years in order to stay enrolled and keep their successful musical group going (they actually look like they’ve been flunking for seventeen years, but never mind that), regularly playing functions that can’t afford the likes of Artie Shaw. When gorgeous Paulette Goddard enters frame as their secretary turned manager, they suddenly get Shaw’s gigs on top of their usual bookings thanks to her prowess for networking. Trouble is, they’re also both in love with her, which means that professional success goes immediately south when they begin fighting over who will win the lady’s heart. Shaw himself figures in this delightful plot when he woos Goddard away to manage his own band’s affairs, which could be an opportunity for her two friends if they don’t get in their own way first, which they do plenty of before the grand finale. A whimsically fun plot that pulls out all the stops (some of the things these guys do to each other really are nasty) combines with a fantastic, Oscar-nominated musical score (by Shaw himself) for a top of the line delight, in which the performers excel and the direction is always on the money. Astaire gets to show off his terrific hoofing and Goddard is at her most ravishing, a rare example of a woman who gets to actually be useful and skilled and not just the girl.