Thursday 21 May 2020

On TV: "Carefree"

1938's Carefree is the one where Fred and Ginger waltz into psychoanalysis, and come away with something like modernity. Fred is the debonair shrink with a questionable approach to his female patients ("what she needs is a good spanking"); Ginger the (engaged) socialite who enters his consciousness as one such patient, and is soon revealed to be beyond conventional treatment norms. What gets them off the couch is a mix of pleasure and country-club leisure that almost certainly played as aspirational to audiences coming out of the Depression: the pair's courtship takes in skeet shooting, bike rides in the countryside, a wonderful quickstep through a fancy restaurant, and Fred working a series of sweet golf drives into a tap routine. (Now that's what I call swing time.) It's hardly surprising that the first Irving Berlin number the stars share ("Color Blind") unfolds in a dream Ginger has after conking out, and director Mark Sandrich gives it a slow-motion sweep you can bet enraptured any onlooking Surrealists - doubly so, if you factor in the dream was induced by a large helping of lobster mayonnaise. (They'd be beside themselves at the later scene in which Fred analyses himself in a mirror.) As light as its title suggests - as light as a dream, as light as air - but that lightness remains a tonic, and it benefits narratively from making the unpredictable Ginger the focus of attention and study, rather than the constant Fred. There's an extent to which the film anticipates those neurotic women's pictures of the immediate post-War period (The Snake Pit, Spellbound), films in which the female lead was a problem that needed puzzling out. Nothing that can't be solved by dancing, naturally - one guarantee of a good night's sleep - but only after Rogers gets a terrific non-musical setpiece, embarking on a destructive rampage through town, smashing windows and leering at taxi drivers in a sweater bearing a heart besieged by arrows that really deserves to have become a cinematic fetish item.

Carefree screens on BBC2 at 3.05pm tomorrow, and is streaming via the iPlayer.

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