Fred & Ginger (& Mark) do ‘The Continental’ 1

Dance · Film

mark sandrich, fred astaire do the continental, but not cheek to cheek

The wonderful shot of director Mark Sandrich and Fred Astaire palling around at RKO Studios comes courtesy of artsmeme friend Marc Wanamaker. Thank you, Marc!

The director and dancer are collaborating on a crazy-long, Art Deco-drenched, epic dance sequence for The Gay Divorcee (1934). Its accompaniment, “The Continental” (“You kiss while you’re dancing …”) would win an Oscar for Best Original Song at the sixth Academy Awards, which took place at the Fiesta Room of the Ambassador Hotel (demolished), March 16, 1934.

THE GAY DIVORCEE (1934): Mark Sandrich, director, Fred Astaire, Max Steiner, music arranger

The centerpiece of this 22-minute dance-film extravaganza stars Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers doing ‘The Continental.’ Their wonderful duet is marvelously set up by screenplay shenanigans (Fred creates a paper-doll cutout to mollify chaperon “Tonetti,” played by the great native-American-born actor Erik Rhodes, while Ginger changes from one perfectly incredible frock into another). The Astaire-Rogers part was surely choreographed by Fred himself.

But when hordes of white-and-black-garbed dancers descend onto the dance floor [07:06], what’s when Astaire steps out and dance-director Dave Gould takes over. It reportedly took Gould six weeks of rehearsal to herd the cats in this massive dance number. Into the Budapest-born Gould’s kitchen sink of steps, the Budapest-born dance director and his Vienna-born musical arranger, Max Steiner insert a Hungarian czardas [15:29]. That’s between a tango [15:05] and a waltz! [15:41] You see … it’s continental!

One comment on “Fred & Ginger (& Mark) do ‘The Continental’

  1. Jim Jul 4,2019 12:32 am

    I don’t know if you’ve seen this or not, but for a view from the other end of the studio, here’s an interview with Shep Houghton who was probably the last survivor of those extras and who died a couple of years ago at the age of 101.

    Though Houghton had never tapped before, he was tucked away in the “attics” of the soundstage and managed to get away with two-stepping the entire “Lullaby” routine. Today he is somewhat dismissive of Busby Berkeley. “He was really a better cameraman than he was a choreographer,” he said. “He was always way up in the ceiling; a lot of boom shots [on the camera crane]. I never saw him dance. When we worked for Berkeley, we did more formations.” Houghton danced in the first Astaire-Rogers movies, Flying Down to Rio (1933) and The Gay Divorcee (1934), and those too consisted of formation work. “What they were buying was appearance,” he said. “They weren’t buying my dancing feet.” Because of that, dance extras eventually “learned how to dance and not perspire. You’d turn very carefully and smoothly.”!

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