Royal Wedding (Stanley Donen / U.S., 1951):

Stanley Donen in his maiden Gene Kelly-less launch, with Fred Astaire and MGM's Anglo-American aspirations. The introductory number ("Ev'ry Night at Eleven") flows mellifluously, though the artist is his own harshest critic: "May I say the performance was a bit ragged," Astaire notes to his sister (Jane Powell) as the curtains go down. The celebrated brother-and-sister dancing duo head out to England for a revue and find romance, Astaire with an aspiring dancer (Sarah Churchill) and Powell with an aristocratic smoothie (Peter Lawford). The dual structure is anchored by Keenan Wynn's playing of twin brothers on opposite sides of the Pacific, but Donen knows movement is what it is all about, and uses a series of rehearsals to calibrate his ascending crane. Astaire rehearsing at the gym is a painter mixing his hues, he grabs a hat-rack and gives it the Ginger treatment, luxuriously; "Open Your Eyes" at the transatlantic ballroom amid turbulent waters is a vision of choreographed grace under pressure, and an instance of the camera seizing the see-sawing floor for a chance to float. Astaire and Powell mimicking streetwise brassiness in "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I've Been a Liar All My Life?" renders the movie version of Guys and Dolls obsolete, while "I Left My Hat in Haiti" posits Donen as the rare filmmaker who saw (and understood) Yolanda and the Thief. The indelible number, however, remains Astaire's gravity-defying breeze across a London hotel room's floor, walls and ceiling during "You're All the World to Me," which has an abstract spatial arithmetic and the tendency to pop up in the most peculiar of places (Erland Josephson's sinister Baron reenacts it in Bergman's Hour of the Wolf, for instance). It is all wrapped up trimly, with some documentary views of cumbersome British pomp and a jokey acknowledgement of Byron's Manfred ("We're going to get married." "I thought you two were related"). With Albert Sharpe.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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