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6 December 2011

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939)

I'll admit that I didn't know a great deal about Vernon and Irene Castle before sitting down to watch 'The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle.' (Surely they could have come up with a better name.)

Fred and Ginger mid-flight
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, RKO 1939

I may be being unkind, but the Castles seem like the worst kind of Showbiz entrepeneurs, making money out of pretty much anything they could. That reminds me... I really do need to get my Ukulele Blog T-Shirts printed. Get your orders in quick to beat the Christmas rush! :-)

The exclusive Ukulele Blog T-Shirt

The plot is loosely based upon the life and times of the husband and wife team, chronicling their meeting, marriage and fame. Irene's memoires have been given the Hollywood treatment. Ha ha... you know where this is going don't you! And you'd be right! But saying that, even though I saw the ending coming from miles off it still managed to surprise me!

The film is a biopic, which is unusual fodder for Hollywood at this time. It was released in 1939 in black and white but the story itself opens in 1910. Fred's sporting dapper threads complete with Boater, and is listening to a Barbershop-style band. Cool!

Beach-front Barbershop
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, RKO 1939

As an aside: Why was Fred's Boater attached to his jacket by a line of thread? I'm guessing that it was a bit of film trickery to make sure that it stuck with him when he jumped into the sea to rescue the dog. Anyone know any better?

You might be wondering how Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers fit into this tale...

Well, before Castle Mania with the million and one bits of Castle memorabilia it was actually all about the ballroom dancing. This is what made the Castle's famous in the first place...


It all started in Paris...
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, RKO 1939

'The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle' was the last film that Fred and Ginger ever made with RKO before going their separate ways. It was an odd choice of film and unusual in as much as it actually made a loss at the box-office. Perhaps that's what triggered the split? Who knows...

Ginger scares the children
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, RKO 1939

The fact that the film is a period piece seems to have stifled Fred and Ginger. Although liberties have been taken with the story, I'm not convinced that the same liberties were taken with the dancing. My favourite bit was Fred's tap scene in the train station, but even this is far from his best. Other than that, the dancing didn't really do much for me. It is worth noting that the film does recreate some of the dances that the Castles made famous so if that's your bag you need look no further.

This isn't sounding good is it...

Fred's lines are sharp, but not so the script
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, RKO 1939

Let's round this off... I haven't got much more to say.

I'm kind of luke warm about the film. The beginning is slow, the middle is long and the ending is an unsatisfying plane-wreck.

On the Triple-B I'm going to scrape together my last 5 dollars and head off to Paris. If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere! Borrow this film... or do like me and watch it courtesy of the BBC.

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