September 10, 2021
The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)
Grade: 67/100

Director: Charles Walters
Stars: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Oscar Levant

What it's about. Josh (Fred Astaire) and Dinah (Ginger Rogers) are the stars of a series of Broadway musical comedies, which feature the music of composer Ezra Millar (Oscar Levant). Josh and Dinah are also married to each other, and it is a tumultuous relationship monitored and arbitered by Ezra.

Enter Barredout (Jacques François), the young French director of "serious" plays. Barredout wants Dinah to star in his latest stage masterwork, and Dinah jumps at the opportunity despite her inexperience in dramatic roles. Josh and Dinah have a falling out. She leaves him and files for divorce.

But Dinah struggles in rehearsals for the new play. Because it's a movie, Josh begins making nightly phone calls to Dinah, impersonating Barredout and providing her with crucial acting tips that restore her confidence and make the play an opening night success. Because it's a movie, Dinah doesn't figure out that it is actually her former husband Josh making the calls. Meanwhile, Barredout and Dinah begin dating.

Ezra separately manipulates Josh and Dinah into performing at the same benefit. There, she realizes it has been Josh making the invaluable phone calls, and because a movie needs a happy ending, is back on again with Josh leaving Barredout barren and out.

How others will see it. The Barkleys of Berkeley did manage an Oscar nomination for its color cinematography. But the film was much less commercially successful than last year's Astaire vehicle, Easter Parade.

Today at, the movie has a 3K user ratings, a low total given that it is the sole color Astaire-Rogers movie. The user rating of 7.0 out of 10 is respectable, with an expected slight gender gap between women (7.2) and men (6.9). The user reviews are mostly positive, with the sole controversy concerning Rogers' over-the-top delivery of the French national anthem.

How I felt about it. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are probably the most famous dance partners in film history. Their nine musicals together during the 1930s were very successful, although much more lightweight than their current reputation.

But Rogers had ambitions to be a dramatic actress, and she split the team up in 1939. She was promptly rewarded with an Oscar for Best Actress, for Kitty Foyle (1940). Meanwhile, Astaire found a home with MGM, a studio which turned out one big budget musical after another until the late 1950s.

Astaire was teamed in the box office smash Easter Parade (1948) with MGM's biggest star, Judy Garland. The Barkleys of Broadway was intended to be a follow-up, also starring Astaire and Garland. But Garland's personal demons led to the termination of her contract. Her replacement was Ginger Rogers.

The Barkleys of Broadway was the first Astaire-Rogers musical in ten years. Curiously, the script and story seems tailor-made for Rogers rather than Garland. Rogers was best as a light comedienne, while Garland was a knockout singer. But in the film, Rogers has much more opportunity for the former than the latter.

Which is a good thing, since the screenplay was written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. They were MGM's best musical playwrights, with their future masterpiece to be Singin' in the Rain (1952). The humor was further helped by the presence of Oscar Levant, whose laconic, deadpan delivery is always on target. He certainly has more bon mots to deliver than he would in An American in Paris (1951) two years hence.

The story for The Barkleys of Broadway has many elements that were true to life. Levant, an accomplished pianist, composer, and wit, practically plays himself, even performing a pair of thunderous classical arrangements on the piano. Also in familiar territory is Astaire, playing an actor and dancer in musicals. The script seems to parody the legend of Astaire and Rogers, with Astaire's character labelled a Svengali shaping Rogers' career, and Rogers' character longing for dramatic roles.

There was the usual formidable MGM production values behind the film. The supporting characters are also deeper than usual. Levant plays the indifferent escort to a bevy of young beauties, while Barredout is not merely a pompous foreigner (a stock figure in prior Fred and Ginger films) to make Astaire jealous. Best of all is the Comden-Green script, which shows the promise that they would later deliver with Singin' in the Rain.