Film: Swing Time

"Never Gonna Dance"? note 
A 1936 Musical Romantic Comedy film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, directed by George Stevens. Victor Moore and Helen Broderick play supporting roles. The music is by Jerome Kern, with lyrics by Dorothy Fields. Many critics feel that this movie has the most advanced dancing (particularly from Ginger Rogers) of the Astaire/Rogers musicals.

John "Lucky" Garnett (Astaire), a featured troupe dancer and Professional Gambler, misses his wedding to wealthy hometown girl Margaret when his buddies play a trick on him. Margaret's father tells Lucky that he must earn $25,000 in order to demonstrate his good intentions if he wants another chance with her. With only the clothes on his back and his lucky quarter, Lucky hops a freight train for New York along with his friend "Pop" Cardetti (Moore), a stage magician.

The quarter leads them to meet Penny Carrol (Rogers) when Lucky asks her for change, but her initial politeness changes to anger when she thinks Lucky has stolen the quarter back from her purse. Wanting to explain, Lucky follows Penny to her job at a dancing academy and signs up for a free introductory lesson so he can get a chance to talk to her. He pretends to be hopelessly clumsy, leading the still-angry Penny to insult him in front of the academy's fussy owner. To save her job, Lucky insists on demonstrating what he has just "learned" and executes a complex routine with her. Impressed, the owner sets up an audition for them at an upscale nightclub.

The audition is repeatedly delayed, first because Lucky can't procure the proper clothes in time and then because the band's contract is in the hands of a a shady casino owner. Meanwhile, Lucky gambles his way to a large sum of money with the help of ten dollars borrowed from Penny's friend Mabel Anderson (Broderick). Penny alternates between being angry at Lucky and starting to develop feelings for him. Lucky finds himself falling for Penny as well, but their budding romance is stifled when he remembers his pledge to Margaret. When Pop reveals to a perplexed Penny the reason behind Lucky's aloofness, Penny again snubs her partner and, in spite of her love for him, turns to bandleader Ricky Romero, who has been in love with her for some time.

At the club's grand re-opening, Lucky is surprised by the appearance of Margaret, and Penny tells him that she and Ricky are engaged. Thoroughly depressed, Lucky prepares to tell Margaret that he no longer wants to marry her, but she surprises him by revealing that she, too, has fallen in love with someone else. Minutes before Penny is to marry Ricky, Mabel tells her about Lucky's broken engagement, while Lucky and Pop conspire to delay Ricky using the same hoax that Lucky's friends used on him. In the end, Penny calls off the wedding and reunites with Lucky.

Never Gonna Dance, a Screen-to-Stage Adaptation, premiered on Broadway in 2003.


The film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Almost Kiss: During a daytrip to the country, Penny has been coming on to Lucky pretty strongly, and he's just decided to go for it ... when Pop hits him with a snowball as a reminder to remember his promise to Margaret.
  • Blackface: For a tribute to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson during the Silver Sandal re-opening gala. Less exaggerated than some examples.
    • For some reason, the costume and dance style in this number are more typical of another African American dancer, John Bubbles, who originated the role of Sportin' Life in Porgy and Bess. Astaire admired Robinson and reportedly took some dance lessons from Bubbles, so the intent may have been a more general Homage.
  • Bookends: The movie opens and closes with a groom being late to his wedding because someone has convinced him that his trousers are hopelessly out of style and need to be sent out for altering before he can be seen in them.
  • Born Lucky: Lucky doesn't even have to gamble to win money—even cigarette machines spill coins for him. This becomes a problem later when he is trying to avoid getting $25,000 so he won't have to go back to Margaret.
  • Breakup Makeup Scenario: The storyline is a series of these. Penny storms away from Lucky several times, but they never stay apart for long.
  • BSOD Song: "Never Gonna Dance" is a surreal, disjointed song expressing Lucky's sense of desolation when it seems he is losing Penny for good. (Also a Breakup Song and Grief Song.)
    I'll put my shoes on beautiful trees,
    I'll give my rhythm back to the breeze,
    My dinner clothes may dine where they please,
    For all I really want is you.
  • Character Development: Lucky in particular, but Penny too.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Pop's magic trick, picking the ace of spades out of a seemingly random deck. He uses it to beat a marked deck to win Ricky's contract from the casino owner.
  • Counterpoint Duet: For the finale, Lucky sings the tune of "A Fine Romance" in counterpoint with Penny singing the tune of "The Way You Look Tonight," demonstrating that the two melodies fit together perfectly.
  • Covered in Kisses: Lucky has some of Penny's lipstick on his mouth after the Kissing Discretion Shot.
  • Cue the Sun: During the final duet, the sun breaks through the clouds as Lucky and Penny embrace.
  • Cut Song: The original opening number, "It's Not In the Cards," showed Pop's magic act as well as the dancing troupe in action. Sadly, not only has the footage been lost, but not even the sheet music survives; only the very end of the song can be heard as the film opens.
  • Drunken Master: The young Upper-Class Twit from whom Lucky tries to win a suit of evening clothes is either this, or just so amazingly good at piquet that he's unbeatable even when sozzled. It's one of the few times Lucky loses a wager—but in his defense, he doesn't actually know how to play piquet and relies on Pop to help him.
  • Eleven O'Clock Number: "Never Gonna Dance." The song leads into a dance done to a Reprise Medley of tunes from Lucky and Penny's happier moments.
  • Empathy Pet / Even the Dog Is Ashamed: When Lucky misses his wedding, he faces the anger of Margaret's dog and cat. (And a glare from her ancestor's portrait.) They all (even the portrait) become much friendlier when he promises to earn $25,000.
  • Engagement Challenge: The $25,000.
  • Good Luck Charm: The lucky quarter. Pop seems to take it more seriously than Lucky does, as Lucky is willing to have it changed so Pop can buy cigarettes. During the final duet, Lucky tosses it away, singing, "Goodbye quarter, goodbye aces."
  • Graceful Loser: Ricky in the end—rather surprisingly, as he's been hostile and jealous up to that point.
  • Ironic Juxtaposition:
    • Lucky hopping the freight train like a hobo, a familiar image of The Great Depression—but wearing the immaculate suit from his canceled wedding.
    • Penny washes her hair while Lucky sings "The Way You Look Tonight" to her from the next room. As he finishes singing about how lovely she looks, she comes into the room with her hair full of lather.
  • Kissing Discretion Shot: When Penny and Lucky reconcile in the dressing room. They move closer ... closer ... and then someone opens the door, blocking the audience's view for a few crucial seconds. Screams of frustration must have been heard in many theaters in 1936.
    • To expand, Astaire and Rogers had only done hand kisses and short pecks onscreen so far, and teasing the audience was becoming a game. They'd already had an Almost Kiss earlier in the same movie. They wouldn't do a full-scale romantic kiss until Carefree in 1938.
  • Living Shadow: Played for laughs and awesome during the "Bojangles of Harlem" number. Lucky dances before a large backdrop on which he seems to cast three shadows. The shadows begin moving independently of him, and eventually walk away. (The amazing thing, on a meta level, is realizing that until this point he had been dancing in perfect sync with the separately recorded shadows, which he wasn't even looking at.)
  • Lost Him in a Card Game: The contract for Ricky's band changes hands this way several times.
  • Love Triangle: Ricky/Penny/Lucky.
  • Moment Killer: Pop and the snowball. (To be fair, Lucky had asked Pop earlier not to let him be alone with Penny, because he was afraid of being tempted in exactly the way he was.)
  • On the Rebound: Penny and Ricky.
  • Outside Ride: Lucky and Pop riding to New York on a freight train.
  • Romantic False Lead: Margaret and Ricky.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Penny wears an elaborately ruffled dress for the audition scene.
  • Professional Gambler: Lucky. In the opening scene, he insists there is no money in dancing and gambling is his true talent. However, he gives it up in the end due to Character Development and the fact that he is by that time part-owner of the nightclub.
  • Quarreling Song: "A Fine Romance."
  • Serenade Your Lover: "The Way You Look Tonight."
  • Sexy Backless Outfit / Simple Yet Opulent: Penny's dress for "Never Gonna Dance" (see picture). It comes with a matching sparkly-accented Pimped Out Cape, seen in an earlier sequence.
  • Shout-Out: To the Marx Brothers and Major Bowes' Amateur Hour (a radio variety show) in "Never Gonna Dance." The line "I'll give my rhythm back to the breeze" may be a shout-out to the George Gershwin song "I Got Rhythm."
    • Also a subtle one to Dorothy Fields' lyric for "I Won't Dance" from Roberta (which itself contained a Shout-Out to The Gay Divorcee). "I Won't Dance" ends with these lines: "I know that music leads the way to romance / So if I hold you in my arms, I won't dance." At the end of Swing Time, Lucky sings while taking Penny into his arms, "Remember how my arms hold you when we dance / But we're not going to dance / This is a fine romance."
    • The name of the nightclub, the Silver Sandal, is likely a nod to the Silver Slipper, a Broadway speakeasy of the Prohibition era.
  • Snow Means Love: Penny and Lucky almost manage to acknowledge their feelings in the snowy daytrip scene (see Almost Kiss). It's also snowing (visible through the window) when they finally reunite.
  • This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman: Lucky runs into an inordinate number of problems best solved by gambling and/or dancing.
  • Title Theme Tune: an unusual case: only the first section of "Waltz in Swing Time" has lyrics (which mostly repeat the movie's title), and they are only sung over the opening titles.