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Yolanda and the Thief

Posted by martinteller on May 8, 2013

Con artists Johnny Riggs (Fred Astaire) and Victor Trout (Harry Morgan) have fled to the idyllic Latin American country of Patria, where there are no extradition laws.  The wealthiest family in Patria are the Aquavivas, who control most of the nation’s industries.  The heiress to the Aquaviva fortune, Yolanda (Lucille Bremer), has just come of age where she must leave convent school and enter the big scary world.  Riggs concocts a scheme to part the impressionable Yolanda with her money… he poses as her guardian angel!  But there are some obstacles in the way, including her scatterbrained aunt Amarilla (Mildred Natwick), a mysterious rival con man (Leon Ames), and Johnny’s own heart and conscience.

Astaire fans may be disappointed that he does relatively little dancing in this film.  There are two grand production numbers.  The first is a lengthy surreal dream sequence in which Astaire and Bremer dance around Dali-esque landscapes, the second is a big song and dance called “Coffee Time” with a trompe l’oeil art deco floor.  Both are fantastic (the dream is one of the few ballets in a musical that didn’t have me checking my watch).  Other than that, however, Astaire does a brief tap during a harp song and that’s it.  But he’s still a charmer, even managing to sell a character whose actions are hard to endorse.  Of course, you’re not really rooting for him to get away with his deception and crime, but to find redemption.

Bremer, fresh from a fine performance in Minnelli’s earlier film, Meet Me in St. Louis, is neither the most compelling leading lady nor the greatest dancer, but she commits to the naiveté of the character, which works in the fairy tale-like universe of the film.  And she looks stunning in the candy-colored Technicolor.  Is there anything Technicolor loves more than a redhead?  It’s a visually captivating movie, with striking set design and bursts of color.  It looks at times like the work of Jack Cardiff, but the cinematographer was Charles Rosher.

Morgan is in top form… although it’s said that Lucille Ball was originally considered for his role.  Now that I wish I could have seen!  Natwick steals the show whenever she’s onscreen, her character is really funny in her obliviousness.  There’s quite a bit of delightful and clever comedy, like the door with multiple levels of peepholes or Astaire & Morgan barking like dogs to chase away someone who could interfere with their scheme.

Dazzling, lush, bizarre, funny, kind of sexy and kind of creepy… I really enjoyed this.  Rating: Very Good (85)


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