Jul 4, 2018 | by Jessika Loucks
Lovely to look at!
It’s a fashion extravaganza in this beautiful 1935 movie. Originally a Broadway production (based on the 1933 book “Gowns by Roberta”), RKO brought this popular tale to a wider audience by adapting it into the film, simply titled Roberta. The third of ten movie projects that would showcase the dancing partnership of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Roberta made great use of a wooden floor during the song “I’ll be Hard to Handle.” The matter of flooring during a big dance scene seems like a trivial detail, right? Wrong. Astaire and Rogers loved working on this surface so much, they explored new tap dancing rhythms. In other musicals, taps were normally dubbed over because the sound was too quiet. But this energetic number was filmed in one take, with real-time audio thanks to the percussion-friendly flooring. You can clearly see that Astaire and Rogers were having a wonderful time during this dance number and their giggling reactions remain a special unscripted Hollywood moment.
With a star-studded cast including Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott, it’s easy to see why this film was such a commercial success. To top it all off – Lucille Ball also makes a cameo as one of the fashion models and while she is unaccredited for this role she would go on to be a key RKO player. In fact, at the height of the success of “I Love Lucy,” she and husband Desi Arnaz bought the company and renamed it Desilu Studios. With all these icons, is the film as good as the Broadway production? Let’s take a look…
“They tell me in Paris, if you don’t buy your gown from Roberta, you’re not dressed at all.”-John
The film begins with a beautiful score by Jerome Kern and a series of cute Parisian sketches. We are then introduced to John Kent (Randolph Scott) and his friend Huck Haines (Fred Astaire). Kent and Huck are in Paris with their band “The Wabash Indianans.” They have been booked at a famous Parisian club, but when the club owner finds out that they are not Indians as he expected, he refuses to let them play. Now stuck in Paris with no money or band engagements, John decides to ask his Aunt Minnie (Helen Westley) who owns the fashionable gown shop “Roberta” for help.
While at the shop, John meets Stephanie (Irene Dunne), Aunt Minnie’s sassy assistant and head designer. It’s apparent from their first meeting that they are smitten with each other and Aunt Minnie sees it too. She is ecstatic to see John and says she will do whatever she can to help the band. All at once everything is thrown into chaos as we hear Stephanie fighting with another woman in the next room. That woman happens to be the Countess Scharwenka (Ginger Rogers). John breaks them up and Aunt Minnie suggests that the Countess listen to the band, in the hopes she can get the boys a gig at the club where she sings.
The Countess agrees and while listening to the band she sees Huck, who happens to be her hometown sweetheart. Huck is just as surprised to see Lizzie (her real name) and she asks him not to blow her cover. In Pairs you have to “be somebody” to get a good singing engagement. Huck agrees to keep her secret and in return the Countess gets the band a job. John, lovesick for Stephanie, visits his Aunt Minnie daily and on one trip is introduced to Ladislaw – a handsome Russian doorman who seems to have a close relationship with Stephanie. John feels a bit threatened by their relationship and decides the only course of action is to fight for her attention.
“Be a pal, will ya, Huck? It’s just a stage name. You’ve got to have a title to croon over here.” –Lizzie
While Stephanie is singing to Aunt Minnie during her daily nap, Aunt Minnie unexpectedly dies. Overnight John inherits the shop. Unprepared and knowing nothing about women’s fashion, he decides that Stephanie should be the one to run the shop, not him. Stephanie says that she is willing to become partners but will not take the company over herself. We are then transported to a ship where John’s ex-girlfriend Sophie is staying on her way to Paris. Sophie (who is snobby and conceited) arrives in Paris and quickly goes to the gown shop to see John. John seems happy to see her and is unaware of the manipulation Sophie is putting him through. In a jealous state, Stephanie insists that Sophie buys a dress she knows John dislikes.
“John, every day you act worse, but today you’re acting like tomorrow.” –Huck
After finding out that Stephanie sold Sophie the dress, John gets mad and Stephanie quits – leaving John to deal with the shop by himself. Frustrated, he stops coming to Roberta’s which means it’s up to Huck to run the shop and coordinate the upcoming fashion show. Stephanie stops by the office to pick something up and when she sees Huck’s creations, Stephanie decides she can’t let Roberta’s reputation be sullied by these misguided designs. Will John end up with Sophie or Stephanie? Will the fashion show be a success? And will Huck rekindle his love for Lizzie?
Content for Concern
Not much to mention here – in one scene a person gets drunk, but it is not shown in a positive light.
So can I see why Roberta was such a big hit? Absolutely! I thought it was wonderful: the music, the dance numbers, the humor, the fashion and the acting were fabulous! If you are looking for a fun, feel-good film for your Friday night, look no further. You will definitely be swept away by the beauty and magic of this movie…