Audrey Hepburn was 29, Fred Astaire was 58. A bit old to play a romantic lead with a woman so young, probably, though the chemistry works well enough. Fred wasn’t past his sell-by date, but it was coming up. This was his next-to-last dancing film, just before Silk Stockings. Neither film made money, and he hung up his tap shoes.
He really hasn’t lost a step here. Well, maybe half a step. But his dances with Hepburn are great, and he has just as much class as he always did, and he makes his partner look wonderful, as he always did. And he was the hands-down best who ever danced with props. He once danced with a hat-rack … and made the hat-rack look good! Here he does a stunning solo with an umbrella and a cape.
She keeps up with him quite well. As a younger woman she studied ballet, so it’s no surprise. She has a “beatnik” solo dance that is damn impressive. And she does her own singing. As a singer she is … only adequate. I heard that she was bitterly disappointed that the studio chose to replace her singing in My Fair Lady with the brilliant Marni Nixon, but it was a wise decision. An even wiser one would have been to cast Julia Andrews, who opened the show on Broadway, as Eliza Doolittle.
This one has a weird history. It was a stage musical in 1927, with 13 songs by George and Ira Gershwin. Astaire starred in it, with his original dancing partner, his sister Adele. Thirty years go by, and they make this movie, using only four of the songs. And frankly, other than “‘S Wonderful,” they are not the best the Gershwins ever wrote. And they totally junked the plot. The movie has nothing in common with the play. This one is about a bookish girl who gets swept up in the Paris fashion scene, and soon is the toast of the town. As so often happens in ‘50s films, intellectualism is mocked. Forget those damn longhairs, let’s boogie! I have nothing against boogieing, but I hate the rest. So, for story, this movie pretty much sucks. But for dancing and some really great photography, it is worth seeing.