Pop perfection. Fred Astaire plays a song-and-dance man top-lining a London show, Ginger Rogers a high-society model who mistakes his identity for that of his married producer (Edward Everett Horton). In the dialogue and situations, the director, Mark Sandrich, and the writers, Dwight Taylor and Allan Scott, milk all manner of farcical misunderstandings; as usual, the key musical numbers -- "Isn't This a Lovely Day?" and "Cheek to Cheek" -- both divulge and heighten the couple's true feelings. In addition to Horton and Helen Broderick as his wife, the character actors who make each bit of word-play count include Eric Blore (as Horton's valet) and Erik Rhodes (as the malaprop-spewing dress designer Alberto Beddini). In this, their biggest hit, Astaire and Rogers are a superb comic-romantic team, though he still dominates the dancing. (This movie inspired Graham Greene to compare Astaire to "a human Mickey Mouse.") Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. "Umberto D," 1952 The screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, who had already collaborated with Vittorio De Sica on a succession of classics, declared that he hoped to create a movie so full of "truly significant and revealing" details that it would seem like "90 minutes in the daily life of mankind." Then he and De Sica came as close as anyone ever has to achieving this goal with "Umberto D." Their moving story of a debt-ridden retired civil servant, who's forced from his home by a cruel landlady, is neorealism at its peak. On the surface, "Umberto D" simply follows the title character, played with a tattered bourgeois hauteur by the retired professor Carlo Battisti, as he and his dog wander through Rome in a futile search for money and fellowship. But De Sica and Zavattini turn mundane rituals into searing presentations of character. The movie starts with its only panoramic scene: elderly men demanding an increase in their pensions. (The sequence is echoed later in a dog pound.) De Sica tightens his focus so unerringly that the final shot -- of Umberto D playing fetch, trying to win back his dog's alienated affections -- is a prodigious expression of modern man's aloneness.
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