AFI Top 100: Swing Time

Each week, this column will cover one film on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, covering my thoughts on the film and whether or not I think it belongs on the list. You can also see my personal ranking here. This week’s film is #90 on the list: Swing Time (1936).

Surprisingly, Swing Time was a new addition to the list in 2007. Unlike some other less culturally significant films on the list (at least by today’s standards—e.g. Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Best Years of Our Lives), Swing Time wasn’t carried over from the 1998 edition. Maybe there was something in the air in the mid-2000s that led voters to include a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical comedy—though it’s surprising their other popular film Top Hat didn’t take honor or at least split the vote—but either way, the reason for its inclusion is obvious: the songs are infectious and the dance numbers are sensational. Aside from those showstoppers, there’s not much to enjoy: the plot is borderline superfluous, contrived to get the audience from one dance sequence to the next, and the characters are thinly sketched, though Astaire and Rogers have a natural charisma. Worse yet: half of the film’s stunning dance numbers occur in the film’s final half hour—one featuring Astaire donning blackface in a woefully misguided (to put it mildly) attempt to pay homage to African American tap dancers, effectively rendering a major sequence unwatchable.

Does It Belong on the List?

I don’t know how it made it in the first place. Top Hat is far more deserving, but even that wouldn’t make my list.

AFI Top 100

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