Irene [1940]

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle was the last of nine films Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made together for RKO Pictures, and it is unlike any other. For the only time, Fred and Ginger play historical characters--the legendary dancing duo that was all the rage between 1912 and 1916--and a married couple, no less. Instead of their usual innovative, plot-driving dances, Fred and Ginger perform pastiches of what the Castles made famous--the fox trot, polka, and tango. And rather than an original score of great American standards by Berlin, Kern, or the Gershwins, the film uses a collection of period tunes, including "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" and "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee." No, this is not Top Hat, but fans will enjoy the film anyway. Vernon and Irene Castle is an affectionate tribute to a bygone era and to a team that Fred said was "a tremendous influence" on his career. As portrayed in the film (which was based on Irene Castle's memoirs and input), Vernon Castle is a small-time vaudeville comedian when he meets and marries Irene. The two not only manage to forge a career as proper, respectable dancers, they become the essence of style, setting national trends for dance, fashion, and even women's hairstyles. The film briefly touches on Fred and Ginger's usual themes of pursuit and union, but mostly they are warm and tender together as they deal with real-life problems, perhaps portraying the earlier films' characters after those "happily ever after" fantasy endings. And as we watch the Castles' performing career rise and decline, straight through to the film's touching last shot, we realize that Fred and Ginger are saying farewell, which makes The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle an appropriate finale to the most glorious partnership in Hollywood history. --David Horiuchi

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