Fred Astaire Week: Nice Work if You Can Get It

August 23, 2012 • 6:47 pm

I find this one of Astaire’s most stunning performances: he uses the drumsticks, drums, and tap-dancing to produce an amazingly intricate bit of choreography.

The movie is “A Damsel in Distress” (1937), the song is the George and Ira Gershwin standard “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” and the whole sequence was shot in one take.

Unbelievable. Only one man could ever have done something like this.

More cowbell?

14 thoughts on “Fred Astaire Week: Nice Work if You Can Get It

  1. Thanks for continuing this! I am certainly going to feel better about my own rhythm changes on the floor. (As in modern high beat music having 2-3 rhythms that you can medley around.)

    It is a marvelous performance. There is a weird part for some 20 s after the 1 minute mark where the pianist and the choreography lets him down. But the rest is magnificent.
    He makes a few misses of course, but the difficulty in keeping the percussion synchronized is outstanding.

    1. Yes, there is a small minute or so, where the rhythm becomes rhythms in a not quite coordinated way, but once that is fixed … just wow!

    2. Latha Menon has commented on this apparent “error:

      . . . a couple of people commented on something going a bit wrong with the rhythm at one point in the drum skit – I don’t think that’s wrong, it’s an overlay of another beat cycle briefly. It’s hard for people to realize that he would deliberately break over the beat cycle, and for people clapping with the beat it makes it hard to follow. That’s why he didn’t do it often I think except in places in some of his extended solos. See the off-rhythms he uses at the start of the tapping, on the hearth, in Needle in a Haystack

      1. I think the overlay is on purpose, but it does seem as if the band is slightly behind/or he is slightly ahead for a short moment

      2. I am no student of history of dancing, but it is my impression that breaks were rare and off-beats more common in these musicals.

        Today it is completely different, it is a rare house et cetera piece that hasn’t a long break. Passing between rhythms without breaks are by necessity slightly off-rhythm, so that can happen. But not to that degree, kudos for Astaire that can make it stick!

        You can’t transplant an artist to another period, but it is interesting to contemplate how a modern Astaire would do it.

  2. “an amazingly intricate bit of choreography.”

    And… the film isn’t cut up into little one- and two-second pieces like it is nowdays in the movies; you can see that it’s really one skilled person doing it all. Astaire insisted on this.

  3. But Gene Kelly. Last night on TCM they showed An American in Paris. I thought I’d watch a few minutes. When it ended, at bedtime, they started showing Singin in the Rain. I thought I might watch a few minutes of that. At 2:00 a.m., when it ended, they threatened to show Inherit the Wind, but I managed to press the OFF button before it started. Nevertheless, Gene Kelly ruined my day.

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