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Film / Top Hat

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Jerry Travers: I'm sorry! I didn't realize I was disturbing you. You see, every once in a while I suddenly find myself...dancing.
Dale Tremont: Oh, I suppose it's some kind of an affliction.

Top Hat is a 1935 Screwball Comedy Musical starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and is often cited as the most successful production in their joint career, with music by Irving Berlin.

Jerry Travers (Astaire) is an American dancer who comes to London to star in a show produced by his friend, Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton). During the night, in their shared large suite, Jerry begins to loudly sing and dance about how he loves to sing and dance, disturbing Dale Tremont (Rogers) in the room below. Horace goes to talk to the management after their room is phoned and Dale confronts Jerry in the room upstairs, only for him to become instantly infatuated with her. She leaves angry and Jerry silently serenades her to sleep with a sand dance. After one more meeting and Jerry sending her flowers, Dale goes to the front desk to find out the name of the man in the room above her and they say it's Horace Hardwick, the husband of Dale's friend, Madge (Helen Broderick).

Hilarity Ensues as Dale continues to mistake Jerry for Horace, as he continues to win her admiration. Then it turns out that Madge has been trying to set up Dale and Jerry for a while. All the while, Dale is modelling dresses for Alberto Beddini (Erik Rhodes), a man who is equally trying to win her affection.

Digitally remastered versions of the films have been released to DVD over the years and a Screen-to-Stage Adaptation toured the UK in 2011, which received positive reviews. The production moved to Broadway in the US in early 2012 and returned to the UK to settle in the West End.

Tropes in Top Hat include:

Original Film

  • Amusing Injuries: Horace putting a cooked steak on his black eye.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: Jerry loves answering questions with remarks like this.
    Horace: What kind of plane [do you want]?
    Jerry: One with wings.
  • Bad Habits: Bates disguises himself as a priest. He's the one who marries Dale and Alberto, which makes the marriage void.
  • Beef Bandage: After Horace receives a black eye from Madge (due to another miscommunication), Jerry suggests a steak. Nobody told Bates or the waiter it was for a wound and not for dinner.
  • Bilingual Backfire: Bates is found by an Italian policeman, who tells Bates he doesn't speak English. Bates then insults him repeatedly and admits that he's broken the law. The policeman, in perfect English, then arrests him.
  • Busby Berkeley Number: "The Piccolino."
  • Call-Back: Jerry dancing loudly in the room above Dale. He does this after Alberto and Dale have married so he can separate them and attempt to explain the situation.
  • Camp Straight: Alberto has an excitable, overdramatic personality, is in an Always Camp profession, and is involved in a few queer-flavored moments of humor. (All three of these elements are on display when he huffs: "Never again will I allow women to wear my dresses!") His romantic pursuit of Dale is a major part of the plot.
  • Caught in the Rain: Jerry and Dale in the park. This leads to him singing "Isn't This a Lovely Day" about how great it is being caught in the rain, because the two of them get to spend some time together.
  • "Cavemen vs. Astronauts" Debate: Bates and Horace aren't talking to each other at the start of the movie because they disagree on what type of tie should be worn with evening wear. Bates says a square tie, but Horace says butterfly.
  • The Chew Toy: Horace.
  • Convenient Slow Dance: Maude tells Dale and Jane to dance together just as a slow song starts so they can bond.
  • Costume Porn: Invoked. Dale is hired by Alberto to wear the dresses he designs as advertisement. Understandably, it works.
  • Curse Cut Short: When discussing horses.
    Jerry: I have his pedigree right here. In fact, his sire was Man O' War.
    Dale: Really? Who was his dam?
    Jerry: I don't know, Miss, he didn't give a da— [Dale closes the hatch]
  • Dance of Romance: "Cheek to Cheek".
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Pretty much every line Dale says is snarky in some way.
    • Madge, mostly commenting about Horace.
  • Deconfirmed Bachelor: Jerry, but he changes his mind for Dale.
  • Double Take: Horace is constantly doing this in conversation: he blandly agrees with whatever he's told, and then realizes what he's agreed with, backs up, and corrects himself.
  • Everything Has Rhythm: When Dale comes upstairs to complain about the noise, she finds Jerry dancing with a statue from Horace's interior decoration.
  • Fear of Thunder: Dale, still giving Jerry the cold shoulder when they get Caught in the Rain, shrieks and leaps into his arms at the sound of a thunderclap.
    Jerry: Are you afraid of thunder?
    Dale: Oh, no. It's just the noise.
  • Flowers of Romance: Jerry buys out the entire stock of a flower shop to fill Dale's room with roses.
  • Fluffy Fashion Feathers: One of Dale's dresses is covered with feathers. During the ensuing dance number, they can be seen flying off and littering the floor.
  • Forced Kiss: Dale to Jerry, when she's pretending to be a forgotten fling. Not that Jerry minds.
  • Forgotten First Meeting: Invoked. After Madge tells Dale that Horace forgets all of his flings, she decides to torment him and pretend they had a fling in Paris that he forgot. Jerry picks up the lie fairly quickly and turns it back on her, as he was ten years old when he was last in Paris.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage:
    • Jerry wants to marry Dale after only knowing her for a couple of days.
    • Dale decides to marry Alberto spontaneously.
  • Funny Foreigner: Alberto Beddini.
  • Happy Dance: "No Strings (I'm Fancy-Free)" is all about how great it is to be single, which is how he ends up meeting Dale.
  • Happily Ever After: After it's revealed that Alberto and Dale's marriage was void because the priest was Bates in disguise, Dale and Jerry reprise their "The Piccolino" dance and dance into the sunset.
  • Hopeless Suitor: Alberto Beddini, but he does get to marry her. Then it turns out it didn't count.
  • I Always Wanted to Say That: Bates mentions that he wanted to do this since childhood when he starts what he thought was a Foreign-Language Tirade to the Italian policeman. Too bad, the man understood every word.
  • Iconic Outfit: "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails". It also includes a cane, which isn't mentioned in the song.
  • Imaginary Love Triangle: Thanks to a case of Mistaken Identity, Alberto, Dale and Madge believe that Horace, married to Madge, has been having an affair with Dale (who has fallen for "him," actually Jerry).
  • Involuntary Dance: Jerry claims to be suffering from a medical condition that causes this. Hopefully, he tells Dale that the nurses always cure it by putting their arms around him.
  • The Jeeves: Bates, Horace's valet. In fact, his scheming, benevolent-manipulator qualities make him an Expy of the Jeeves.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: Horace has a bad habit of responding to comments or questions honestly, realizing he'd rather lie, and hastily revising his words.
  • Love at First Sight: Jerry towards Dale, from the moment he saw her standing in the doorway.
  • Love Triangle: Alberto and Jerry both love Dale, who is far too confused.
  • The Matchmaker: Madge, who wants to pair up Jerry and Dale.
  • Malaproper: Alberto, regularly. English is his second language; he's presumably much more fluent in Italian.
  • Mistaken for Cheating:
    • Dale believes Jerry is trying to have an affair with her, having been told he is Madge's husband Horace. Of course, he isn't even married.
    • Alberto and Madge both believe Horace is attempting to cheat with Dale because she keeps telling them so. He did in fact have an affair but with another girl.
  • Mistaken Identity: The entire premise of the story. After Jerry has already romanced Dale twice without telling her his name, the hotel staff identify Horace to Dale as the man carrying a briefcase and a cane, which he hands off to Jerry before she can get close enough to see his face. Hilarity Ensues as no one refers to Jerry by name in Dale's presence, believing they've already been introduced properly.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Alberto attempts to kill Horace because he believes he's a married man trying to get with Dale, whom he is also trying to win over. Played for Laughs due to Alberto's ineptitude and the misunderstanding.
    Alberto: We Beddinis have the motto: "For the woman, the kiss; for the man, the sword!"
  • The Musical Musical: Jerry is starring in a musical produced by Horace, which contains the film's titular song, "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails." It's a two-night engagement, Friday and Monday, leaving time for Jerry to fly to Italy for the weekend to continue his pursuit of Dale.
  • No Antagonist: The story runs on Dale mistaking Jerry for her best friend's husband, her struggle to overcome her attraction to him, and his attempts to break through her sudden reluctance.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Dale's famous ostrich-feather dress.
  • Poirot Speak: Alberto Beddini.
  • Pretty in Mink: Dale has a white ermine coat.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder:
    Dale: What is this strange power you have over horses?
    Jerry: Horsepower.
  • Romantic Runner-Up: Alberto Beddini.
  • Royal "We": Bates speaks like this; Jerry copies it when they start talking.
    Bates: Allow us to introduce ourselves. We are Bates.
  • Serenade Your Lover: The "Sandman" dance, "Isn't This a Lovely Day," and "Cheek to Cheek."
  • Smoky Gentlemen's Club: Jerry is waiting for Horace in one, finding their "silence" rule annoying, and irritates them as he leaves by tap dancing.
  • Stealth Insult: Subverted multiple times and always towards Horace, just.
    Jerry: [realising why Dale has been behaving so peculiarly] She's been mistaking me for you this whole time.
    Madge: Well, no wonder she said he was fascinating.
    Horace: Yes, no wonder... I resent that!
  • Talk About the Weather: "Isn't This a Lovely Day" is all about the rain.
  • Telegraph Gag STOP: A telegram is read off by Beddini containing confusing Stop cues and leading Dale to comment that it "sounds like Gertrude Stein."
  • Title Drop: During the song "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails".
  • Unwanted Rescue: Jerry attempts to "rescue" Dale from being stranded in the rain and she tells him she'd rather stay in distress.
  • Wakeup Makeup: When Dale wakes up from Jerry's tap dancing upstairs, her face looks impeccable with makeup applied.
  • Yaoi Fangirl: Marge doesn't mind that Alberto kisses Horace. (Or at least pretends not to because she knows it will annoy Horace.)

Stage Adaptation Additions
  • Adaptation Expansion: Several more songs were added to the stage production. All of them were songs by Irving Berlin, who had written the music for the original film.
  • Camp Gay: The director Jerry asks for advice on women, in the stage version.
  • The Cover Changes the Meaning: In the original "Sandman" dance routine, the song is played as slightly romantic but still as a comedy. In the stage production they play up the romantic aspect as high as possible.
  • Disguised in Drag: One of Bates' many disguises, in the stage version.
  • Irrelevant Act Opener: The opening sequence (in the stage version) is part of a fictional show starring Jerry.
  • Shown Their Work: The sets of the stage production are exact copies of the film sets.


Video Example(s):


You mildewed donkey!

Bates is found by an Italian policeman, who tells Bates he doesn't speak English. Bates then insults him repeatedly and admits that he's broken the law. The policeman, in perfect English, then arrests him.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / BilingualBackfire

Media sources: