THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY (1949) C 109m dir: Charles Walters

w/Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Oscar Levant, Billie Burke, Gale Robbins, Jacques Francois, George Zucco, Clinton Sundberg, Inez Cooper, Carol Brewster, Wilson Wood, Hans Conreid

Fred and Ginger are together again in this delightful, though not first-rate, film about the battles of a theatrical couple when one wants to abandon musicals for drama. Judy Garland was originally scheduled to play the female lead, but her problems with MGM escalated and Rogers was called in as her replacement. The only Astaire-Rogers film in color, THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY was made at MGM, ten years after the last of their legendary films made at RKO.

From The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book by Arlene Croce: "The Barkleys was an unscheduled reunion with far from ideal results, but it probably wouldn't have turned out very differently if MGM had planned it from the start. 'Josh' and 'Dinah' would still have had His and Hers bathrooms, in that cute, characterless townhouse the studio built for them to live in. [Betty] Comden and [Adolph] Green, who were at MGM devising screenplays of Good News and their own On the Town, would almost certainly have written the script, and without a doubt this is the script they would have written. Both their vehicles for Astaire were slick and somewhat mordant variations on his career. The Barkleys played on his relationship with Rogers [who, like Dinah Barkley, yearned to escape musicals for more dramatic parts]; The Band Wagon, on the period when, after too many bad movies, he was off the screen until Easter Parade brought him back. True, the songs written for The Barkleys might have been more inspired, but it's hard to imagine who in 1949 could have equaled 'They Can't Take That Away from Me.' The great age of songwriting was drawing to a close. There were very few good new songs in Astaire's movies of the Fifties. The best of these movies --- Three Little Words and The Band Wagon and Funny Face --- were built around old tunes.

"Rogers, of course, hadn't made a musical in ten years (Lady in the Dark wasn't really a musical), although she'd done delightful little dances in some of her films --- the jitterbug in Bachelor Mother, the black bottom in Roxie Hart, the tap dance in The Major and the Minor. During Astaire's low years she was at her peak --- inventive, whimsical, buoyant through all her vicissitudes --- until she made the one change the public wouldn't permit: she became remote and grand, first in Lady in the Dark, then in the Garbo role in the remake of Grand Hotel (called Weekend at the Waldorf). And then in The Barkleys --- Sarah Bernhardt! There are people who would say that Rogers' Oscar [for 1940's KITTY FOYLE] was a kiss of death, but maybe the trouble with it was that it was presented to her by Lynn Fontanne.

"At the Oscar ceremony for 1949, Fred Astaire received a special Academy Award 'for his unique artistry and his contributions to the technique of musical pictures.' It was presented to him by Ginger Rogers."

From the website, this 2007 review of the film by Beth Gilligan:

"Although The Barkleys of Broadway marked the tenth and final collaboration between Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, it feels less like an Astaire-Rogers movie than a bittersweet Technicolor coda to the delightfully far-fetched musical comedy-romances they appeared in during the 1930s. Reunited after a ten-year hiatus from working with each other, the pair appears here as Josh and Dinah Barkley, a wildly successful husband-and-wife dance team whose offstage tension threatens to ruin their Broadway success. In a plot that uncannily mirrors the widely reported off-screen personalities and ambitions of its stars, Josh’s perfectionism and unwillingness to cede much credit to his wife drives Dinah, in a bid to be taken seriously, to accept the role of a young Sarah Bernhardt in a play written by a handsome young Frenchman.

"This decision initially drives the two apart, but after secretly observing a rehearsal in which Dinah bumbles her way through the role, flustered by the playwright’s conflicting directions, Josh adopts a French accent and begins coaching her over the phone (in the guise of the playwright), finally realizing that his wife thrives when she is being built up rather than torn down. Just as Rogers went on to win an Oscar for a dramatic role (1940's Kitty Foyle), Dinah ultimately triumphs in the Bernhardt play (though it’s difficult to gauge whether Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who co-wrote the movie’s script, meant for Dinah’s pivotal dramatic scene --- as Sarah reciting the words to 'Le Marseillaise' --- to come off as patently ridiculous as it does), but it soon dawns on her that Josh was an integral part of that success. Needless to say, the two swiftly reunite with the promise to appear in more musical comedies together (a rebuff to 'serious' roles that slyly echoes Joel McCrea’s epiphany in Sullivan's Travels).

"Although it boasts some memorable dance sequences, most notably Josh and Dinah’s dance to 'They Can’t Take That Away From Me' (which Astaire sang to Rogers but never danced to in 1937's Swing Time), The Barkleys of Broadway lacks the screwball sparkle of Astaire and Rogers’ earlier pairings. It has been widely noted that the plots of the films they appeared in together (with the exception of the 1939 biopic The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle) were essentially interchangeable, but for many (myself included), that was part of the charm. Absent here are the glorious art deco sets, the stunning ballgowns, the stock of reliably wacky supporting characters (memorably played by Eric Blore, Helen Broderick, and Edward Everett Horton, among others), and the specter of a young, lovesick Astaire furiously pursuing Rogers through a web of mistaken identities and misunderstandings (Barkleys is more of a comedy of remarriage).

"Still, the movie remains notable for its fusion of the new and the old. Made under the supervision of Arthur Freed at MGM, it in many ways heralds the changes the musical genre would undergo during the 1950s (Astaire’s 'Shoes with Wings' routine in particular calls to mind Gene Kelly’s more athletic dance style), but it also allows fans to savor one last glimpse of one of the screen’s most memorable pairings, dancing off into the sunset together."

THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY was nominated for an Oscar for Best Color Cinematography (Harry Stradling Sr.).