Swing Time

For the jazz style, see swing time. For other uses, see Swing time (disambiguation).
Swing Time

theatrical release poster
Directed by George Stevens
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay by Howard Lindsay
Allan Scott
Based on "Portrait of John Garnett"
by Erwin S. Gelsey
Starring Fred Astaire
Ginger Rogers
Music by Jerome Kern
Cinematography David Abel
Edited by Henry Berman
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release dates
  • September 4, 1936 (1936-09-04) (US)


Running time
103 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $886,000[2]
Box office $2,618,000[2]

Swing Time is a 1936 American RKO musical comedy film set mainly in New York City, and starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It features Helen Broderick, Victor Moore, Eric Blore and Georges Metaxa, with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. The film was directed by George Stevens.

Noted dance critic Arlene Croce considers Swing Time Astaire and Rogers' best dance musical,[3] a view shared by John Mueller[4] and Hannah Hyam.[5] It features four dance routines that are each regarded as masterpieces. According to The Oxford Companion to the American Musical Swing Time is "a strong candidate for the best of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals". The Oxford Companion says that, although the screenplay is contrived, it "left plenty of room for dance and all of it was superb. … Although the movie is remembered as one of the great dance musicals, it also boasts one of the best film scores of the 1930s."[6] "Never Gonna Dance" is often singled out as the partnership's and collaborator Hermes Pan's most profound achievement in filmed dance, while "The Way You Look Tonight" won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and went on to become Astaire's most successful hit record, scoring first place in the U.S. charts in 1936. Jerome Kern's score, the second of two he composed specially for Astaire,[7] contains three of his most memorable songs.[8]

The film's plot has been criticized, though,[9] as has the performance of Metaxa.[3][4] More praised is Rogers' acting and dancing performance.[10] Rogers herself credited much of the film's success to Stevens: "He gave us a certain quality, I think, that made it stand out above the others."[4] Swing Time also marked the beginning of a decline in popularity of the Astaire–Rogers partnership among the general public, with box office receipts falling faster than usual, after a successful opening.[11] Nevertheless, the film was a sizable hit, costing $886,000, grossing over $2,600,000 worldwide, and showing a net profit of $830,000. The partnership never again regained the creative heights scaled in this and previous films.[12]

In 1999 Swing Time was one of Entertainment Weekly's top 100 films. In 2004 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In the new AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) it has been added at #90.


John "Lucky" Garnett (Fred Astaire) is a gambler and dancer. He is set to marry Margaret (Betty Furness), but his friends hold him up so that he is late for the wedding. Margaret's father phones to call off the wedding, but Lucky doesn't get that message. His friends bet him that he will not be getting married, and he agrees to the bet. Margaret's father tells Lucky that he must earn $25,000 to demonstrate his good intentions.

He and his friend "Pop" Cardetti (Victor Moore) try to buy train tickets, but his friends take his money – because he lost the bet. So they hitch the first freight train to New York. Broke, they wander around the city. Lucky meets Penny (Ginger Rogers), a dance school instructor, when he asks for change for a quarter. It's his lucky quarter and Pop feels bad that Lucky lost it. They attempt to get it back, but Penny is in no mood to deal with them. When she drops her things, Pop sneaks the quarter out of her purse, and she thinks Lucky did it.

They follow Penny to her work. To be able to apologize, he has to take a dancing lesson from her. She's still furious at him. After a disastrous lesson, Penny tells him to "save his money" since he will never learn to dance. Her boss, Mr. Gordon (Eric Blore), overhears her comment and fires her. Lucky dances with Penny to "prove" how much she's taught him. Not only does Mr. Gordon give Penny her job back, he sets up an audition with the owner of a local venue.

They check into the same hotel where Penny is staying. Lucky does not have a tuxedo to wear to the audition. He tries to get a tuxedo off a drunk man, but he ends up losing his own clothes instead. They miss the audition, and Penny gets mad at Lucky all over again. Lucky arranges another audition. He and Pop picket in front of Penny's door until she gives in and forgives him.

But they cannot audition because the club has lost their band leader, Ricardo Romero (Georges Metaxa), to a casino. They go to Club Raymond where Lucky gambles to win enough to get Ricky back. Meanwhile, Ricky declares his feelings for Penny. Lucky is about to win enough to marry Margaret, but he takes his last bet off in time... proving he is no longer interested in her, but in Penny, instead. The club owner bets him double or nothing and they gamble for Ricky's contract. Upon seeing that the club owner intends to cheat, Pop cheats as well, and Lucky wins the contract.

Lucky and Penny dance at the club. They are dancing together all the time, but Lucky does not trust himself around Penny because he feels guilty about not telling her about Margaret. He's avoiding her, which Penny notices, so she and her friend Mabel Anderson (Helen Broderick) conspire to get Lucky and Pop out to the country. Pop lets slip the information about Lucky and Margaret.

Despite her best efforts, the two begin a romance, even as Ricky continues to woo Penny. When Margaret shows up, Lucky tries to avoid her; but, too late, Penny finds out. She agrees to marry Ricky. Margaret calls off her engagement to Lucky before he can. Lucky successfully stops Penny's wedding. And the two end up together, much to everyone's delight.



Initially, the working titles for the film were I Won't Dance and then Never Gonna Dance, but studio executives worried that no one would come see a musical where no one danced, and the title was changed.[13]

Musical numbers


Box office

According to RKO records the film made $1,624,000 in the US and Canada and $994,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $830,000.[2]


Home media

Region 1
Since 2005, a digitally restored version of Swing Time is available separately (in Region 1) and as part of The Astaire & Rogers Collection, Vol.1 from Warner Home Video. These releases feature a commentary by John Mueller, author of Astaire Dancing – The Musical Films.

Region 2
Since 2003, a digitally restored version of Swing Time (in Region 2 – not the same as the US restoration) is available separately, and as part of The Fred and Ginger Collection, Vol. 1 from Universal Studios, who control the rights to the RKO Astaire-Rogers pictures in the UK and Ireland. These releases feature an introduction by Astaire's daughter, Ava Astaire McKenzie.



  1. "Swing Time: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved April 10, 2014.
  2. 1 2 3 Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931–1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol. 14 No. 1, 1994 p. 55
  3. 1 2 Croce, pp.98-115
  4. 1 2 3 Mueller, pp.100-113
  5. Hyam, Hannah (2007). Fred and Ginger – The Astaire-Rogers Partnership 1934–1938. Brighton: Pen Press Publications. ISBN 978-1-905621-96-5.
  6. Hischak, Thomas. "Swing Time". The Oxford Companion to the American Musical, Oxford University Press 2009. Oxford Reference Online, accessed September 25, 2016 (requires subscription)
  7. The other one was You Were Never Lovelier, while Kern's Roberta was originally written for the Broadway stage
  8. Mueller, p.101n: "In a 1936 letter George Gershwin was somewhat patronizing about the music: 'Although I don't think Kern has written any outstanding song hits, I think he did a very credible job with the music and some of it is really quite delightful. Of course, he never was really quite ideal for Astaire and I take that into consideration'".
  9. Mueller, p.101: "the story is riddled with inconsistencies, implausibilities, contrivances, omissions,and irrationalities," Croce, p.102: "discontinuities in the plot," also see Hyam, p.46
  10. Mueller, p.103: "her finest in the series."
  11. Astaire, Fred (1959). Steps in Time. London: Heinemann. pp. 218–228. ISBN 0-241-11749-6.
  12. Croce, p.104: "Swing Time is an apotheosis."
  13. Hischak, Thomas S. (2013). The Jerome Kern Encyclopedia. Lantham, Md.: Scarecrow Press. p. 211. ISBN 978-0-8108-9167-8.
  14. 1 2 3 Billman, Larry (1997). Fred Astaire – A Bio-bibliography. Connecticut: Greenwood Press. p. 93. ISBN 0-313-29010-5.


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