Comedy, Musical, Romance | 93 min | Released: 1951
Director: Stanley Donen
Starring: Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Peter Lawford, Sarah Churchill, Keenan Wynn, Albert Sharpe, Bea Allen
Our Rating: 7
The story sees brother and sister Tom and Ellen Bowen as stars of a show Every Night at Seven, a Broadway success. They are persuaded to take the show to London, capitalizing on an imminent royal wedding.
On the ship, Ellen meets and quickly falls in love with the impoverished but well-connected Lord John Brindale. Whilst casting the show in London, Tom falls in love with a newly engaged dancer, Anne Ashmond. Tom assists Anne to reconcile her estranged parents and also asks his agent to locate Anne’s supposed fiancé in Chicago – only to discover that he’s married.
Carried away by the emotion of the wedding, the two couples decide that they will also be married that day.
The film was directed by Stanley Donen; it was his second film and the first he directed on his own. It was released as Wedding Bells in the United Kingdom.
The story is set in London in 1947 at the time of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh. Astaire and Powell are siblings in a song and dance duo, echoing the real-life theatrical relationship of Fred and Adele Astaire.
Stanley Donen and Jane Powell were not part of the film’s original crew and cast.
Former dancer Charles Walters was the film’s original director, with June Allyson as Astaire’s co-star.
Judy Garland was then signed as Ellen, over the objection of Walters who had spent a “year-and-a-half nurturing her through her previous film, Summer Stock”; instead of listening to Walters’ objection, Arthur Freed brought in Donen as director; Garland, who during rehearsal worked only half-days, starting calling in sick as principal photography was to begin. That prompted Freed to replace her, which in turn caused MGM to cancel her contract with the studio, one that had lasted 14 years.
Principal photography occurred in 1950, from July 6-August 24; retakes took place in mid-October.
According to MGM records, the film earned $2,548,000 in the US and Canada and $1,354,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit to the studio of $584,000.
Upon its release, Bosley Crowther said it had “a lively lot of dancing and some pleasantly handled songs”; according to Crowther, “Mr. Astaire has fared better in his lifetime-and he has also fared much worse.”
“Too Late Now” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 24th Academy Awards, losing the award to “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer, that had been featured in Here Comes the Groom.
Fred Astaire and Jane Powell sing “How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life,” the longest song title in a Hollywood film
In an interview given shortly after the film was released, Fred Astaire revealed that he had tried dancing with more than thirty commercially available hat racks before the studio had the prop department design and build the one in the film at a final cost of over $900 (about $4000 in 2011 dollars). The hat rack disappeared shortly after the film wrapped.
The “You’re All the World to Me” dance was accomplished by putting a whole room, attached camera and harnessed cameraman inside a 20 ft. diameter rotating “squirrel cage.”
June Allyson was first cast in the role of Ellen, but became pregnant. Judy Garland was cast next, but MGM terminated her studio contract.
The idea of dancing with a clothes tree had been suggested to Astaire earlier by Hermes Pan.
Retitled “Wedding Bells” in England so as not to make it seem as a documentary of the recent Royal Wedding of Princess Elizabeth, later to become Queen Elizabeth II.
After being fired from this film, Judy Garland was a guest on Bing Crosby’s radio show, and they sang a duet of “How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life”. A recording of the broadcast survives today and reveals the legendary Garland wit. She says she was going to star in this film, but “Leo the Lion bit her”.
After being fired from this film, Judy Garland locked herself in a bathroom and scratched her neck with broken glass. There is much dispute over whether it was a serious suicide attempt or a desperate cry for help.
Charles Walters was originally signed to direct the film, but he quit when Judy Garland replaced June Allyson, as he refused to work with Garland again after Summer Stock (1950).
Near the end of filming, Jane Powell discovered she was pregnant.
The shop name “Harridge’s” is an amalgamation of “Harrod’s” and “Claridge’s”
Of all the songs in the film only “Too Late Now” ever made it onto the record charts.
The dancing on the ceiling number appears to be one long continuous take. However, if you watch closely, there are at least three and possibly four very subtle cuts in this scene.
The scene featuring the song “You’re All the World to Me” was filmed by building a set inside a revolving barrel and mounting the camera and its operator to an ironing board which could be rotated along with the room.
“Ev’ry Night At Seven”: Astaire pretends to be a bored king alongside a lively Powell.
“Sunday Jumps”: Astaire credits the idea for this solo to his long-time choreographic collaborator Hermes Pan. In it, Astaire parodies himself by dancing with a hatstand and appears to parody his rival and friend Gene Kelly by inserting a mock bodybuilding episode during which he kicks aside some Indian clubs in a reference to Kelly’s “Be A Clown” routine with The Nicholas Brothers in The Pirate. The fame of the dance rests on Astaire’s ability to animate the inanimate. The solo takes place in a ship’s gym, where Astaire is waiting to rehearse with his partner Powell, who doesn’t turn up, echoing Adele Astaire’s attitude toward her brother’s obsessive rehearsal habits to which the lyrics (unused and unpublished) also made reference. In 1997, Astaire’s widow Robyn authorized Dirt Devil to use a digitally altered version of the scene where Astaire dances with a hatstand in a commercial; Astaire’s daughter Ava objected publicly to the commercial, implying they had “tarnish[ed] his image” and saying it was “the antithesis of everything my lovely, gentle father represented”
“Open Your Eyes”: This waltz is sung by Powell at the beginning of a romantic routine danced by Powell and Astaire in front of an audience in the ballroom of a transatlantic liner. Soon, a storm rocks the ship and the duet is transformed into a comic routine with the dancers sliding about to the ship’s motions. This number is based on a real-life incident which happened to Fred and Adele Astaire as they traveled by ship to London in 1923.
“The Happiest Days of My Life”: Powell’s character sings this ballad to Lawford’s, with Astaire sitting at the piano.
“How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life” has what is considered the longest title of any song in MGM musical history. For the first time in his career, Astaire casts aside all pretension to elegance and indulges in a comic song and dance vaudeville-style with Powell. The routine recalls the “A Couple Of Swells” number with Judy Garland in Easter Parade. Here, for the second time in the film, he seems to parody Gene Kelly by wearing the latter’s trademark straw boater and employing the stomps and splayed strides that originated with George M. Cohan and were much favored in Kelly’s choreography.
“Too Late Now”: Powell sings her third ballad, this time an open declaration of love, to Lawford.
“You’re All the World to Me”: In one of his best-known solos, Astaire dances on the walls and ceilings of his room because he has fallen in love with a beautiful woman who also loves to dance. The idea occurred to Astaire years before and was first mentioned by him in the MGM publicity publication Lion’s Roar in 1945.
“I Left My Hat in Haiti”: This number, essentially the work of Nick Castle, involves Powell, Astaire, and chorus in a song and dance routine with a Latin theme.