December 31, 2016

Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald

Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald

Call me old-fashioned and I will thank you for the compliment. Call me a fool for rosy nostalgia and more thanks will be in order. Yes, Fred and Ginger are my favorite movie couple, and last year while recuperating from a broken leg, I watched four of their movies back-to-back shown on Turner Classic Movies. I haven’t stepped into a movie theater in years, and only watch TCM and a few sports on the idiot box. The latter has recently become even worse after the Trump victory. Watching know-nothing talking heads repeat ad nauseam how Americans turned out to be racists and homophobes, and the fury unleashed by “traumatized” students, is sickening enough. Add to that the utter idiocy of most programs and the terminally adolescent and moronic late-night talk shows, and a black-and-white Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie from 1935 is like an ice-cold beer at the end of a two-hour walk across the Sahara.

Fred and Ginger flicks transcended the boundaries of identity because today’s marketeers, interested in identities they can target, did not exist. Everyone was white and good-looking, had wonderful and impeccable manners, and dressed more elegantly than the Duke of Windsor, of necktie-knot fame. Mind you, there were black porters on the train and serving on the liners taking Fred and Ginger down South America way, but that was about it. They were called escape flicks for the poor and unemployed. They have now become escape clauses for the permanently traumatized by the atrocious manners of the great unwashed, people like yours truly.

“A Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie is like an ice-cold beer at the end of a two-hour walk across the Sahara.”

So you can imagine what a delightful surprise it was to see a movie called La La Land, starring the divine Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. They might not dance like Fred and Ginger, and they’re not dressed as elegantly, but it’s a bittersweet fairy tale with the couple and others bursting into song à la ’50s musicals. Stone and Gosling are actors first and not dancers, but practice makes perfect and their hoofing is as professional as it gets. Fred and Ginger were the opposite—hoofers first, then actors. Perhaps that’s why I prefer them, their inability to act down-to-earth, or naturally. There’s too much “naturally” nowadays, too much swearing, and much too much information. Give me a fairy tale any day.

And two weeks after the Donald’s victory—another fairy tale—I got from TCM just what the doctor ordered. Love Me Tonight was made in 1932 and stars Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, also Myrna Loy, C. Aubrey Smith, and Charlie Ruggles. Chevalier is a Parisian tailor who is owed a fortune by a count. He drives to the count’s ch”teau where the count’s father, the duke, is among the richest in France. On the way he almost runs over the beautiful Jeanette, who is riding and singing “Isn’t It Romantic,” by Rodgers and Hart. The handsome tailor sings “Mimi” to her—another great song—but she finds him too fresh. She is a widowed princess and lives with her uncle, the duke.

Once in the ch”teau—a Hollywood version with giant pillars and marble floors and endless grand staircases—the tailor is introduced to the duke by the indebted count as a baron, and he meets again the blond princess who still thinks he’s fresh. “You don’t act like a baron,” she tells him. Three spinster sisters of the duke, however, take a liking to him, as does the duke, and he’s invited to stay. Soon he and the princess are madly in love. “I love you,” he tells her. She slaps him. “I love you,” he tells her again, and gets slapped again. “I love you,” he says for a third time, and she pounces on him and kisses him.

Then the you-know-what hits the fan. He confesses that he’s a tailor and she goes into shock. The three spinsters faint. The butlers, footmen, and scullery maids are furious. A tailor! “I knew it,” says a gossip. “He was no gentleman, his clothes were too finely cut.”

Of course, all’s well that ends well, and the princess chases the tailor returning to Paris brokenhearted and they live happily ever after. It is a Hollywood film. The Europeans would never give it such an ending. Eighty-one years later, tailors are the dukes of today’s culture. Tom Ford, Valentino, Ralph Lauren: all glorified seamstresses, billionaires, and taken seriously by what passes for society. If you get a chance, go see the movie and dream. The clothes are great, the music’s even greater, and it has a sense of humor. A tailor, a tailor, even an atomic bomb explosion would not have shocked them as much as a tailor among them. Those were the days.


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