Roberta (1935 film)
Roberta is a 1935 musical film by RKO starring Irene Dunne, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and Randolph Scott. It was an adaptation of a 1933 Broadway musical Roberta, which in turn was based on the novel Gowns by Roberta by Alice Duer Miller. It was a solid hit, showing a net profit of more than three-quarters of a million dollars.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||William A. Seiter|
|Produced by||Pandro S. Berman|
|Screenplay by||Jane Murfin|
|Based on||Based on the 1933 musical by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach|
and a 1933 novel by Alice Duer Miller
|Music by||Jerome Kern, conducted by Max Steiner|
|Edited by||William Hamilton|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
The film kept the famous songs "Yesterdays", "Let's Begin" (with altered lyrics), and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" from the play, along with a fourth song, "I'll Be Hard to Handle". Three songs from the play were dropped—"The Touch of Your Hand", "Something Had to Happen" and "You're Devastating". Two songs were added to this film, "I Won't Dance" (resurrected from the flop Kern show Three Sisters) and "Lovely to Look At", which both became #1 hits in 1935. The latter addition was nominated for the Best Song Oscar. The songs "I Won't Dance" and "Lovely to Look At" have remained so popular that they are now almost always included in revivals and recordings of Roberta.
Roberta is the third Astaire-Rogers film, and the only one to be remade with other actors. MGM did so in 1952, entitling the new Technicolor version Lovely to Look At. Indeed, with an eye to a remake, MGM bought Roberta in 1945, keeping it out of general circulation until the 1970s.
John Kent (Randolph Scott), a former star football player at Harvard, goes to Paris with his friend Huck Haines (Fred Astaire) and the latter's dance band, the Wabash Indianians. Alexander Voyda (Luis Alberni) has booked the band, but refuses to let them play when he finds the musicians are not the Indians he expected, but merely from Indiana (Huck Haines and his Indianians Band).
John turns to the only person he knows in Paris for help, his Aunt Minnie (Helen Westley), who owns the fashionable "Roberta" gown shop. While there, he meets her chief assistant (and secretly the head designer), Stephanie (Irene Dunne). John is quickly smitten with her.
Meanwhile, Huck unexpectedly stumbles upon someone he knows very well. "Countess Scharwenka", a temperamental customer at Roberta's, turns out to be his hometown sweetheart Lizzie Gatz (Ginger Rogers). She gets Huck's band an engagement at the nightclub where she is a featured entertainer, and Huck agrees to keep her true identity a secret.
Two things trouble John. One is Ladislaw (Victor Varconi), the handsome Russian deposed prince and doorman who seems too interested in Stephanie. The other is the memory of Sophie (Claire Dodd), the snobbish, conceited girlfriend he left behind after a quarrel over his lack of sophistication and polish.
When Aunt Minnie dies unexpectedly without leaving a will, John inherits the shop. Knowing nothing about women's fashion and aware that his aunt intended for Stephanie to inherit the business, he persuades Stephanie to remain as his partner. Correspondents flock to hear what a football player has to say about feminine fashions. Huck gives the answers, making a lot of weird statements about the innovations John is planning to introduce.
Sophie arrives in Paris, attracted by John's good fortune. She enters the shop, looking for a dress, but is dissatisfied with everything Stephanie shows her. Huck persuades her to choose a gown that John had ordered to be discarded as too vulgar. When John sees her in it, they quarrel for the final time.
John reproaches Stephanie for selling Sophie the gown. Terribly hurt, Stephanie quits the shop. With Roberta's putting on a fashion show in a week, Huck takes over the design work, with predictably bad results. When Stephanie sees his awful creations, she is persuaded to return to save Roberta's reputation.
The show is a triumph, helped by the entertainment provided by Huck, Countess Scharwenka, and the band. (A pre-stardom Lucille Ball, with platinum blond hair, appears uncredited in her first RKO film as a model wearing an elaborate feather cape, after the vocal by Dunne, in the fashion show.) The closing sensation is a gown modeled by Stephanie herself. At the show, John overhears that she and Ladislaw are leaving Paris and mistakenly assumes that they have married. Later, he congratulates her for becoming a princess. When she informs him that Ladislaw is merely her cousin and that the title has been hers since birth, the lovers are reunited. Huck and Lizzie, who decide to get married, do a final tap dance sequel.
- "The Pipe Organ Number": Astaire performing on the hands of his band arranged as a keyboard
- "Let's Begin": Comedy song and dance number by Astaire, Candy Candido and Gene Sheldon, with band
- "Yesterdays": Sung by Dunne, with guitar and string bass accompaniment
- "I'll be Hard to Handle": Double dance by Astaire and Rogers, a tap number in which they "talk with their feet" (repartee expressed in dance steps).
- "I Won't Dance": Song by Rogers, Astaire at piano; followed by a solo dance to the melody by Astaire
- "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes": Sung by Irene Dunne (reprise danced by Ginger and Fred)
- "Russian Lullaby": Sung by Dunne with balalaika orchestra
- "Fashion Pageant": Parade of models in an array of costumes to a medley of songs, with Astaire as master of ceremonies
- "Lovely to Look At": Dunne solo and Rogers and Astaire dance
- "Finale Dance": Astaire and Rogers
In popular culture
The Venetian fashion house Roberta di Camerino, founded by Giuliana Camerino in 1945, was named for the film.
- Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p55
- Taylor, John Russell; Jackson, Arthur (1971). The Hollywood Musical. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 28–29.
- Frew, Tim (2001) . Lucy: A Life in Pictures (Trade paperback) (First paperback ed.). New York: Barnes & Noble Books. p. 35. ISBN 0-7607-2866-6.
- Roberta cast at Internet Movie Database
- "Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire: Roberta: (1935)". Reel Classics.
- Bellafante, Ginia (9 November 1999). "Front Row: To Have and to Hold". The New York Times. pp. B13. Retrieved 2012-01-30.
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