Top Hat is a 1935 screwball comedy musical film in which Fred Astaire plays an American dancer named Jerry Travers, who comes to London to star in a show produced by Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton). He meets and attempts to impress Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers) to win her affection. The film also features Eric Blore as Hardwick's valet Bates, Erik Rhodes as Alberto Beddini, a fashion designer and rival for Dale's affections, and Helen Broderick as Hardwick's long-suffering wife Madge. The film was written by Allan Scott and Dwight Taylor. It was directed by Mark Sandrich. The songs were written by Irving Berlin. "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" and "Cheek to Cheek" have become American song classics. It has been nostalgically referenced — particularly its "Cheek to Cheek" segment — in many films, including The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) and The Green Mile (1999). Top Hat was the most successful picture of Astaire and Rogers' partnership (and Astaire's second most successful picture after Easter Parade), achieving second place in worldwide box-office receipts for 1935.
Perhaps the definitive Fred & Ginger movie, Top Hat is a story of love and longing and… of course, dancin’ galore! Some of the famed couple’s greatest moments are on display here: ‘Dancing Cheek to Cheek’ as a couple, and most memorably, Astaire’s ‘Top Hat & Tails’ number wherein he uses his cane to ‘gun down’ a lineup of dancers, one by one, his tap shoes serving as the crack of the weapon.
The plot is thin, as is common in 1930s musicals: Astaire is a dancer that’s just busting at the seams with his art. He shows off some moves one night in his apartment (and what moves they are, making excellent use of the props in the room), only this annoys the hell out of the woman (Rogers) living downstairs. It’s one of the few times that a musical actually makes reference to the fact that it’s not normal to break into song and dance whenever the mood strikes you, though of course, eventually, Rogers gets in on the act herself.
Top Hat is one of cinema’s essential musicals, and arguably the best musical of its era. (Also don’t confuse it with Topper, a romantic comedy starring Cary Grant.)
Now available on DVD for the first time (also as part of an Astaire and Rogers box set), the disc includes commentary from Astaire’s daughter, a featurette about the film, and a couple of comedy shorts.