Late one Saturday night, back in 1970 or 1971, when I was living in Capitola with my brother, who had gone to bed, I started watching an old movie on our little B&W television. I had never seen anything like it before, not because it was unusual, but because it was from the 1930s and I was 17 years old and hadn’t seen a lot of 30s movies. This one was called Follow the Fleet, and it was my very first Fred and Ginger movie. I don’t think I can quite express how enthralled I was with the film. We used to watch a lot of TV while tripping in those days, often with the sound off, and those were memorable viewing experiences in their own right, but I wasn’t high that night.
The world in that movie seemed so romantic, the concluding dance so emotional … I’ve never forgotten it. And after that, I watched every 30s musical I could find, liked them all, but the Fred and Ginger movies were always my favorite, and remain so to this day.
What’s odd, watching Follow the Fleet today, is how atypical it is for an Astaire/Rogers picture. They don’t wear evening attire until the very last scene … Astaire plays a sailor in the Navy, for goodness sake! The basic romantic plot (boy loves girl, misunderstandings arise, girl hates boy, girl comes around, boy and girl get married) is there, but almost equal time is given to the much more boring couple, Randolph Scott and Harriet Hilliard (who is better known nowadays as the latter half of the phrase “Ozzie and”).
There are a couple of other oddities in the context of the Astaire/Rogers movies. Ginger does a solo tap number … she’s terrific … and there’s one dance, to “I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket,” that is played for laughs, with lots of intentional screwups.
It’s a very lighthearted movie … Fred even chews gum, and is v.cool doing it … at the end, the plot creaks into a “let’s put on a show” segment that, while stupid, allows Fred and Ginger to finally get their dress-up clothes on. The little plot surrounding their song-and-dance (“Let’s Face the Music and Dance”) is anything but lighthearted … they meet as both consider suicide … it’s also not particularly romantic, compared to others of their films where the big dance is meant as the culmination of their seduction of each other. But lord, is it exquisite.
Funny thing is, as I was watching, Robin was finishing up a tangerine, which had left a lot of sticky juice on her hands. As Fred and Ginger danced beautifully across the screen, I could hear Robin, the romantic love of my own life, the Ginger to my Fred, licking her fingers loudly to get the juice off. Ironic, I suppose, but also one of the many reasons I love her. (Her only comment on the dance was “Wow, that’s a pretty risque dress!”)