At first glance, I expected this film to just be an excuse for excessive song and dance numbers. It is, but that’s not the point. The point is, I was surprised to find the whole thing very delightful.
First, we meet Guy Holden (Fred Astaire), an American dancer with the capability to burst into song and dance at any moment. Did dancers really wear tap-shoes out to dinner? You know, just in case. Anyway, in that first scene, Guy and his pal Egbert (Edward Everett Horton) are out to dinner in Paris and they’ve forgotten their wallets. Egbert’s afraid they’ll have to work the meal off by doing dishes (the horror!) so he gets Guy to dance for their dinner. When the tap number is nearly over, Egbert finds that his wallet was in his coat the entire time. What a riot!
Alright, laugh it up. That scene pretty much sets the tone for the whole film: a convoluted song and dance over a slight mix up. But you know what’s funny? It is funny! Every line is delivered with perfect timing, perfect tone and facial expressions that never miss a beat. The whole film (except for the Lets Knock Knees song) keeps this zany, mixed up comedy that can keep a beat.
So let’s get to the meat of the story. Guy happens upon Mimi Glossop (Ginger Rogers) in a bit of a pickle, her dress is caught in a locked suitcase. I guess it’s love at first sight and though Mimi is obviously not interested, Guy decides to comb the city for her. Luckily, they get into a minor fender bender and she leads him on a little car chase out in the country. Guy corners Mimi and confesses his love, but Mimi speeds off only leaving him with her name. Sounds like he’s not getting anywhere, huh?
Mimi has her reasons for speeding off; she’s married. But it’s an unhappy marriage where she hardly ever sees her husband. So with the help of her Aunt Hortense (Alice Brady), they hatch a scheme to give the husband cause to divorce Mimi. They hire an Italian correspondent to make it look like Mimi has been unfaithful, but with a little mix up, Mimi thinks the correspondent is Guy.
Along the way there’s plenty of singing, dancing, jokes and quirky lines that just roll off the actors with ease. The waiter (Eric Blore) is the best kooky side character I’ve ever seen, I smiled every time he did and laughed at half his lines. Now, I realize this film may seem like a stretch for most modern viewers, but it’s a lot more fun than you’d expect. And if I had to be brutally honest, It Happened One Night didn’t live up to my expectations, whereas The Gay Divorcee exceeded them by miles.
“I wonder why he preferred to hunt elephants when he could have married me!”