Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Blogathon -Romance in Manhattan (1935)

Not too many years ago, I happened across a Ginger Rogers film I had never seen or even heard of before. Romance in Manhattan turned out to be not only a lovely little movie, but also became one of my favorites. As much as I love the pairing of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce others to this lesser known charmer which co-stars Ginger with Francis Lederer.

FILM SUMMARY

Karel Novak (Lederer) has worked hard to achieve his dream of immigrating to America. A native of Czechoslovakia, he meets all the legal requirements for entry. However, upon his arrival he learns that one of those requirements has changed and he is to be deported back to his home country.

Ginger Rogers & Francis Lederer
Ah, America!

Karel can’t bear the thought that he must return home. Leaving his belongings and money behind, he escapes into New York City, where he is certain he will find work.  However, the only luck Karel has is meeting the kind and compassionate show girl Sylvia Dennis (Rogers). Sylvia is the sole caretaker for her younger brother Frank (Jimmy Butler) and is barely making ends meet herself. But she offers Karel food, a place to sleep and help in finding a job.

As weeks and months pass, Karel becomes a welcome addition to the lives of Sylvia and her brother Frank.  Karel finds a job as a taxi driver and helps contribute to the household. He also manages to befriend police officer Murphy (J. Farrell McDonald), despite living in fear of discovery and deportation.

Ginger Rogers & Francis Lederer
Officer Murphy -a friend of the friendless

Sylvia and Karel begin to fall for each other, but Sylvia prefers to marry a millionaire. She is sick of poverty and seeks security for herself and Frank. This desire becomes even more important when both she and Karel find themselves out of work just as social services threaten to take Frank away from her.  Karel however, is convinced that love will find a way and proposes to Sylvia. But their problems are far from over. A shady lawyer reports Karel’s immigrant status and Frank is taken from Sylvia.  But with a little help from Officer Murphy, Karel and Sylvia may just have a chance.

MY THOUGHTS

In today’s climate, it would be easy to politicize a film like Romance in Manhattan. Especially as it features the story of an immigrant whose dream of America motivates him to break the law when one subjective requirement threatens to obliterate his hope and sacrifice.  But in my opinion, this would be a mistake, because you might miss the sweetness of this story and it’s characters.

You’re going to marry a millionaire -me!

This film came at a time of transition in Ginger Rogers’ career and is one of five films she made in 1935. Ginger already had numerous credits to her name, but mostly as a supporting or character actress. However, prior to the release of Romance in Manhattan, she was paired with Fred Astaire in two of the nine films in which they would appear together. Her star was just starting to rise. Within the following several years she appeared in six more films with Astaire and also branched out into serious dramatic roles, one of which (Kitty Foyle) won her an Oscar.

Ginger’s portrayal of Sylvia Dennis is one of my favorite’s. Sylvia is practical and realistic, but she has not allowed the challenges of life to harden her or make her cynical. She has retained her innocence but is also wise to the ways of the world. Though Sylvia has little, she doesn’t think twice about sharing it with someone who has even less. And even though she espouses a desire to marry wealth, Sylvia doesn’t really fit the definition of a gold-digger. She is playful yet sincere in her wish, but when it comes down to it, she realizes that love is more valuable. Rogers never overplays her performance as Sylvia, keeping it genuine with an underlying sense of humor. In her capable hands, Sylvia is a believable depiction of an average, quietly heroic, every day American.

Francis Lederer
It’s always helpful to know a soft-hearted officer of the law when you are having legal difficulties

As much as I love Ginger Roger’s portrayal of Sylvia though, this is really Francis Lederer’s film. From his first appearance onscreen he draws you in to the heart of Karel Novak. You feel his excitement, disappointment, determination and every emotion in between in his pursuit to become an American. His earnestness, innocence and optimism help you to experience the poignancy of his plight. Here is a man who truly wants to follow the laws of his adopted country, but who also refuses to allow his inability to meet one subjective requirement make all his sacrifice for naught. Even though he begins with nothing and needs every spare penny, Karel willingly contributes to the Dennis household.  He also risks the threat of deportation in order to keep Sylvia and Frank together, willing to give up his dream for their sake. I particularly appreciate how his immigrant perspective helps Sylvia to see her native country through new, appreciative eyes.

Romance in Manhattan also benefits from the performances of Jimmy Butler and J Farrell McDonald as Frank and Officer Murphy. I’m not familiar with Butler’s other work, but his portrayal of Sylvia’s brother is quietly convincing. Unlike some child actors, his personality doesn’t overpower the part, but he doesn’t disappear into it either. Butler really makes Frank his own. It is a shame that he died young in combat in WWII. It would have been interesting to see what he might have done as an adult actor.

Ginger Rogers & Francis Lederer
One big happy family

McDonald was a familiar face to me as he should be. In his career he amassed over 300 credits in small parts (some uncredited). Here he has the chance to shine as a soft-hearted Irish cop who doesn’t let the law crush an otherwise good man. And of course, what 1930’s film would be complete without the presence of Donald Meek? Sadly, he doesn’t appear until the end of the picture. But it’s still a pleasure to see him play a small role as a minister.

Romance in Manhattan celebrates self-sacrifice, compassion, human kindness, understanding and love. It’s focus on these attributes reminds us not only of the best qualities of America but also of mankind.

Unfortunately, this film rarely airs on TCM. But it is available to rent through Amazon, iTunes and Vudu. Or you could always buy the DVD like I did.

This is my contribution to the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Blogathon hosted In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Love Letters to Hollywood. Please stop by their websites and look around. Crystal and Michaela are two of my favorite classic film bloggers and their websites are charming and informative. While you are there don’t forget to check out to the other entries honoring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in this blogathon.

(All screen shots are my own.)Related Reviews:

Ginger Rogers in Star of Midnight, Francis Lederer in Voice in the Wind

Top Ten Tuesday -Favorite Novellas

Today’s Topic: Favorite Novellas/Short Stories

Hosted by: That Artsy Reader Girl

This is actually an interesting topic for me as I’m not generally a fan of novellas or short stories. It often doesn’t allow enough time for proper character or plot development. However, I’ve found a few exceptions to the rule which I will share with you today. I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anyone that the majority of these are written by some of my favorite authors. Many are prequels to series, which naturally make the stories of more interest to me. Others are just very well written despite their short length. Continue reading “Top Ten Tuesday -Favorite Novellas”

Book Review -Running Barefoot

SUMMARY

When Josie Jensen, an awkward 13-year-old musical prodigy crashes headlong into new-comer Samuel Yazzie, an 18-year-old Navajo boy full of anger and confusion, an unlikely friendship blooms. Josie teaches Samuel about words, music and friendship, and along the way finds a kindred spirit. Upon graduation, Samuel abandons the sleepy, small town in search of a future and a life, leaving his young friend behind. Many years go by and Samuel returns, finding Josie in need of the very things she offered him years before. Their roles reversed, Samuel teaches Josie about life, love, and letting go. Deeply romantic and poignant, Running Barefoot is the story of a small town girl and a Native American boy, the ties that bind them to their homes and families, and the love that gives them wings. Continue reading “Book Review -Running Barefoot”

Winter in July Blogathon -New in Town (2009)

SUMMARY

Lucy Hill (Renee Zelweger) is the sole female executive for Munck Foods in Miami. Her career is her priority. When her boss mentions that one of their blue collar manufacturing plants needs some restructuring, Lucy volunteers. She is less than enthused however, when she learns that she will have to temporarily relocate to a small town in wintry Minnesota.

Lucy’s arrival in New Ulm is less than promising. The town’s citizens and plant employees are prejudiced against her. Lucy’s chilly attitude does nothing to endear her to them. Things go from bad to worse when she unintentionally antagonizes both the local union representative, Ted (Harry Connick Jr.) and Stu (J.K. Simmons), the plant foreman. Her only ally is her overly friendly secretary Blanche (Siobhan Fallon Hogan).

Thanks to Blanche’s efforts, Lucy slowly begins to warm up to the people of New Ulm. She begins to see them as individuals with something to offer, instead of names and statistics related to her job. As Lucy starts to involve herself in the community she finds she has more in common with these small town folk than she wants to admit. Her relationship with Ted also begins to heat up, though Stu still resists all of her efforts at reconciliation.

Lucy’s love for her new friends is challenged when her boss orders her to close the plant which provides the main source of employment for New Ulm. She is forced to re-examine her priorities and determine where her heart belongs. Continue reading “Winter in July Blogathon -New in Town (2009)”

Top Ten Tuesday -A Few of my All Time Favorite Books

Today’s Topic: Best Books I’ve Read In 2018 (So Far)

Hosted by: That Artsy Reader Girl

Well, I may have jumped the gun a little bit on this week’s prompt. I actually tackled this subject on a recent Top Ten Tuesday post. So instead of sharing my favorite reads of the year, I’m going to share my favorite reads ever! These are books that I re-visit over and over without ever growing tired of their stories.

Since I have more than ten all-time favorites, today I will share those that have received little to no attention on my website. I always love to introduce people to a good story!

Continue reading “Top Ten Tuesday -A Few of my All Time Favorite Books”

Top Ten Tuesday -Books That Celebrate America

Today’s Topic: Books with Red, White, & Blue Covers (In honor of the 4th of July in the USA. Choose covers with your own country’s colors if you prefer!)

Hosted by: That Artsy Reader Girl

I was really excited about this week’s prompt, until I started looking through all my books. Can you believe with hundreds of books on my shelves I only have two or three with appropriately hued patriotic covers?! #fail.

After this astonishing discovery I realized I would have to reinterpret the prompt. So, instead I have made a list of books which I believe feature stories celebrating America. Continue reading “Top Ten Tuesday -Books That Celebrate America”

Foreign Film Friday -The Red Queen (2015)

SUMMARY

She was referred to as “Soviet Sophia Loren” and “the most beautiful Kremlin weapon.” But who was the Red Queen? Was she the queen of the catwalk or a KGB agent seducing foreign diplomats? How did she manage to succeed and what was the price she had to pay? The life of Regina Zbarskaya, the most famous USSR, is full of mystery and drama.

In 1950’s Communist Russia, a family tragedy leaves Zoya Kolesnikova a stigmatized orphan. Leaving her home town, she heads to Moscow to escape her past. While there she adopts the name Regina. With the help of a benefactress,she reinvents herself through education and determination.

Initially she pursues her mother’s dream of becoming an accountant, but a chance encounter leads her into the world of fashion. Regina works hard not only to become a clothes model but also to overcome past mistakes. Eventually, she realizes success not only in Russia but also world wide. But past traumas still haunt her and a life of fame has its’ price. Continue reading “Foreign Film Friday -The Red Queen (2015)”

Film Review -Tea With Mussolini

Tea With Mussolini is a film that has been on my radar for a long time. For years. Populated with some of the best British actresses of our time, I knew it was a movie I had to see. Unfortunately, it is not readily available on the streaming platforms I use. Finally, I decided I had waited long enough and purchased the DVD. It’s a purchase I do not regret.

In it’s purest form, Tea With Mussolini portrays the story of an orphaned Italian boy who’s life intersects with those of female British expatriates living in Italy during the years of WWII.

SUMMARY

Little Luca’s mother is dead and his father cannot claim him, thanks to his vindictive, jealous wife. He is taken in by the kindly, maternal Mary Wallace (Joan Wallace) who can’t bear to see him sent to an orphanage. Mary is part of a community of British woman living in Florence which includes the flighty, artistic Arabella (Judy Dench) and the widow of the former British ambassador to Italy, Lady Hester Random (Maggie Smith). Also, contributing to Luca’s education and welfare are the American women Georgia Rockwell (Lily Tomlin) and the wealthy, flamboyant, Elsa Morganthal (Cher). Elsa’s friendship with Luca’s mother inspires her to provide a small trust for Luca’s future. Together these women share their knowledge and compassion with the young Luca before he is sent off to boarding school on the eve of World War II.

Years pass, and the women remain in Italy even though Britain is at war with their host country. Eventually, they are removed from their homes in Florence to less than acceptable housing as prisoners of war. Luca returns home where he secretly works with Elsa to better their living conditions.

To read the full review, please follow me over to The Silver Petticoat.

Book Review -The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck

SUMMARY

After her seemingly perfect life falls apart, Sarah Hollenbeck reinvents herself as a successful author of steamy romance novels.  At the height of her fame, Sarah becomes a Christian. Determined to leave her old life behind completely, she experiences culture shock as she throws herself into a new lifestyle.

But her old identity isn’t so easy to leave behind. Her fans and her publisher are clamoring for a new release. Meanwhile, Sarah’s past is one she tries to keep quiet at her new church, especially when she begins dating her pastor. Sarah is sincere in her desire for a complete personal transformation. But navigating the expectations, demands and privacy concerns of her new life presents a challenge. Continue reading “Book Review -The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck”

Top Ten Tuesday -Series I’ve Given Up On

Today’s Topic: Series I’ve Given Up On/Don’t Plan to Finish

Hosted by: That Artsy Reader Girl

Although I probably have more reading time than most, it isn’t near enough to conquer my massive TBR list. Unfortunately, this means many books I purchase don’t end up being read. And though I almost never DNF a book, I do sometimes DNF a series. It’s rarely because I don’t like the series. Most of the times it is because a lot of time has passed in between the books I’ve read and the ones still remaining and I lose interest. Other times, I like the first book or two in the series, but I just don’t find them compelling enough to continue. With reading time a valuable commodity, a series must keep me intrigued over the length of the entire series. I may finish a single title that I find less than fascinating, but I won’t invest the time into a whole series. Continue reading “Top Ten Tuesday -Series I’ve Given Up On”