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Film / Swing High, Swing Low

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Swing High, Swing Low (1937) is a romantic drama starring Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray, the third pairing between the two stars. It was directed by Mitchell Leisen and is based on the Broadway play, Burlesque.
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In Panama, former soldier Skid Johnson (MacMurray) and Maggie King (Lombard) meet and decide to live together merely out of convenience. During her stay, Maggie finds out that Skid is an incredible trumpet player, so she gets him a nightclub job to showcase his skills. Eventually, they fall in love and become a successful act. In this dingy club, a NYC music promoter spots Skid and offers him a job back in the States. Maggie pushes Skid to accept the job alongside bluesy singer, Anita Alvarez (Dorothy Lamour), so he goes and promises to send money to bring Maggie back to America. However, the day never comes; Skid becomes famous and distracted, making promises he never keeps.

None of Maggie's letters get proper replies, so she borrows money and flies over to find out that Skid has been cheating on her with Anita. Heartbroken, she files for divorce and moves on. This comes out of left field for Skid, so he descends into despair and neglects his talent, leaving Maggie with the choice to either help Skid recover or marry someone else.

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This film was never renewed for copyright, so it's available for free.


This film shows the following tropes:

  • The Alcoholic: Skid has bouts of the alcoholic in him, but Maggie is vigilant; she tells him to stop whenever he goes overboard. However, once Maggie leaves him, Skid drinks heavily, making himself too shaky to play.
  • Beta Couple: Harry, Skid’s friend, and Ella, Maggie’s friend.
  • Big Applesauce: Maggie helps skid get a fancy job in NYC, and he promises to send money for her to come once he hits it big.
  • Blatant Lies: Skid saying that he’s at the point of having enough money to send to Maggie. He, however, just puts it off repeatedly.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: If Maggie didn’t push Skid to consider going to NYC, he would still be stuck in Panama blowing his cornet.
  • Descent into Addiction: Once Maggie decides to divorce Skid and marry her old friend, Skid becomes a rabid alcoholic and bum.
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  • Did Not Get the Girl: Skid. Averted in the end; Maggie returns to help him get back on his feet and says that she won’t leave.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Maggie lives with two men (Skid and Harry), and it isn’t shown as a moral problem.
  • Hypochondria: Harry is always wearing a coat with an overcoat on top and copious sweaters. When Skid goes away, he gives him all kinds of pills in case he gets sick.
  • Innocent Cohabitation: Maggie just lives with Harry and Skid out of convenience.
  • In with the In Crowd: The music scene in NYC accepts Skid as the talent that he is and he begins to neglect Maggie because of this.
  • Meet Cute: Skid and Maggie meet while she’s on ship being lowered on the Panama Canal.
  • Relationship Sabotage: Anita shreds Maggie's telegram, so Skid won't know that Maggie has written about coming to New York. She also actively makes sure that he never sends the flight money over to Maggie; she encourages him to gamble his money away.
  • The Remake: This film is a remake of the 1929 version, The Dance of Life and was also remade in 1948 as When My Baby Smiles at Me.
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: For their nightclub act, Maggie wears pretty evening gowns and so does Anita.
  • Spicy Latina: Anita Alvarez.
  • Spiritual Successor:
    • Martin Scorsese's New York, New York was inspired by this film for his film about a volatile relationship between a couple, where the romance and the artistic calling clash against each other.
    • Damien Chazelle's La La Land which is a successor to both Leisen and Scorsese.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Skid cheats on Maggie with Anita.
  • Wham Line: There's a Running Gag between Maggie and Skid saying that he could always go back into the army if something every went wrong with his musical career. When Skid hits rock bottom, he goes to the army office to get a checkup and hopes to get back in the army, but the doctor says he’s completely shot. He can’t even be in the army.
  • Would Hit a Girl: At his lowest, Skid hits Anita when she tries to get him back to the bandstand.
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