Eye For Film >> Movies >> Vivacious Lady (1938) Film Review
Reviewed by: Chris
Modern audiences know Ginger Rogers primarily as the other half of ‘Fred & Ginger,’ unaware of her non-dancing but highly dramatic and comedy roles. Vivacious Lady is a great example of the latter. Ginger is cast against the young James Stewart. She was dating him at the time, and the romcom has a natural warmth and believability to it, in sharp contrast to the occasionally stiff and formal chemistry with Fred Astaire (a chemistry that often seemed to stop as soon as they left a dance floor).
Posh botany professor Peter Morgan Jr. (Stewart) meets nightclub singer Francey (Rogers). They fall in love and marry a day later (romcoms don’t have to be believable). Peter is rather shy about introducing his new wife to his well-to-do, straight-laced and rather overbearing father. Francey initially poses as a student, but then gets into a cat fight with Peter’s high-society ex-fiancée, Helen. This involves some seriously sexy slapping – possibly the best cat fight ever in evening gowns. Since Ginger's legs were insured for $500,000 they were strapped with boards and padded for protection during the carefully choreographed (and brilliantly edited) shoot. Blows are interspersed with sparkling wit such as,
(Helen) “I'm going to give you a piece of my mind...” followed by
(Francey) “Oh, I couldn't take the last piece!”
The newly weds are properly united to consummate their marriage only after innumerable crazy scenes, but at least when they kiss it looks real.
This film is an example of one of the best comedies of the period. Direction is by George Stevens, with whom Ginger had just with worked on Swing Time. Ginger Rogers gets top billing, ahead even of Stewart. She only gets one song to sing, You'll Be Reminded Of Me, but shows that she can truly command a stage without an Astaire to back her up. The rest of the time this couple needs no lullabies to bring them together. We see Ginger Rogers the star, not the shy little Astaire side-kick that merely does “everything he did, backwards and in high heels.” (The famous quote, by the way, often wrongly attributed, comes from a cartoon where a rough-looking housewife is berating two down-and-outs at a Fred Astaire film festival.)
Ginger fondly recalls some unexpected hilarity from Vivacious Lady in her autobiography. In one scene they arrange to meet at the boathouse late at night and it turns out to be a lovers' hideaway for the whole campus population. Dozens of other couples are snuggling up in various boats. ‘We took our places and George called out, "All right. Action. Camera..." And then for some unknown reason, he said, "Hit your crickets!" Somehow it just struck everyone as hilarious. Jimmy and I began to giggle and the hanging boats shook with the laughter of the other smooching couples.’
This film is a treasure, in spite of James Stewart’s love-it-or-hate-it, overly-innocent character. It is a film that can warm the heart and cheer you up on a rainy day.Reviewed on: 22 Feb 2011