DATELINE: No Ginger Needed?
In 1957 came the last great Fred Astaire movie, and his dance partner and costar is Audrey Hepburn, not Ginger Rogers. Funny Face is as good as you’re likely to find with a homage nod to those musicals of the 1930s.
You may cringe to see almost 60-years-old Astaire wooing almost 30-years-old Hepburn. The old dance trouper is amazingly youthful, though at times he looks tired after all those acrobatic steps. He watches a few numbers (jazz interpretive stuff with Audrey and two beatniks) with askance.
The older woman Kay Thompson is the fashion magazine owner and editor (and Ginger could have played this but chose not to do it). And, Kay steals all her scenes, including a few dances with aging Fred.
Within a few years, Astaire would turn to dramatic acting in films like On the Beach, dismissing himself as too old to dance and be a romantic lead.
Yet, when he is called upon: Fred still has the magic, doing a dance with an umbrella and a raincoat that turns into a matador’s cape. Brilliant late career effort.
Though producers denied Audrey a chance to sing in My Fair Lady, she does so in this film—and her voice is distinctive, not bad.
Fred plays an arty photographer on the lines of Richard Avedon (who took the real pix in the pic). Hepburn is a bookstore worm transformed into a model that she disdains.
Early claustrophobic stage scenes contrast with the wide-open location numbers in Paris, leading up to the real Eiffel Tower. Director Stanley Donen provides some marvellous moments outside the studio.
Gershwin tunes abound, including the constant refrain from “S’marvelous,” that emerges only at the climax of the movie.
In some ways, the movie is trying too hard to be special, like dancing on raft in a stream with swans floating by. Yet, you must give it credit for providing us with legendary performers doing wonderful things.