“They convince us momentarily that the ideal romantic love our culture programs us to believe in can, against all common sense, be realized.” —Robin Wood, Film Comment

The Film Society of Lincoln Center presents Fred and Ginger (July 13-15), a complete retrospective of the iconic duo’s shared oeuvre, 85 years after their first collaboration. It was an artistic partnership that would revolutionize and reimagine the Hollywood musical, reshaping the genre’s legacy for generations to come.

In 1930, three years before Fred Astaire had even appeared on film, writer Robert Benchley had already proclaimed him “the greatest tap dancer in the world.” By the time Flying Down to Rio, his second film and first real breakthrough, opened in 1933, Astaire, along with his sister Adele, had already been hailed as a sensation of the New York and London stages. Ginger Rogers, on the other hand, though already several years into a successful movie acting career, had never danced with a partner before when they were paired on Rio. The pair would go on to become immortalized as icons for their dazzlingly fleet-footed choreography and their singularly charming onscreen chemistry.

The retrospective follows the progression of Fred and Ginger’s work together in chronological order, kicking off with a free screening of their first collaboration, Flying Down to Rio, and continuing with Top Hat’s “Cheek to Cheek” dance; their unforgettable performances in Swing Time; the end of their RKO run in the surprisingly moving The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle; and their final film, after ten years apart, The Barkleys of Broadway.

Tickets go on sale June 22, and are $15; $12 for students, seniors (62+), and persons with disabilities; and $10 for Film Society members. Become a member today! See more and save with the 3+ film discount package or $75 All-Access Pass.

Organized by Lesli Klainberg and Maddie Whittle of the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

BFI National Archive; UCLA Film & Television Archive;

Support for Fred & Ginger Complete is generously provided by the Gilda and Henry Block Endowment for the Cinematic Arts.

All screenings held at the Walter Reade Theater (165 West 65th Street) unless otherwise noted.

Flying Down to Rio
Thornton Freeland, USA, 1933, 35mm, 89m
This zesty, zingy Pre-Code fun machine was designed as a vehicle for haute leading lady Dolores Del Rio and towheaded Gene Raymond—but it was fourth- and fifth-billed Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire who ran away with the show. Her wiseacre brass proved a perfect foil for his droll elegance, and when they hit the dance floor for the sizzling “Carioca,” celluloid history was cemented. Don’t bother with plot; just delight in the slangy innuendo, jazzy musical numbers, and outré optical effects—all leading up to the high-flying Dadaism of the finale, in which a bevy of chorines shimmy on the wings of airplanes soaring over South America.
Friday, July 13, 12:30pm

The Barkleys of Broadway
Charles Walters, USA, 1949, 35mm, 109m
After ten years apart, Fred and Ginger got the old act back together for one last hurrah—this time in Technicolor and with the help of MGM’s high-gloss Freed Unit. Originally designed as a vehicle for Astaire and Judy Garland, it turned out to be a fitting reunion piece with its story of a husband and wife song-and-dance team whose professional partnership and marriage hit the rocks after she decides to pursue a career in the “legitimate” theater. Fred tapping amidst a legion of disembodied shoes is sheer delight, while the ballroom number “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”—reprised from 1937’s Shall We Dance—recaptures the old magic with a new poignancy.
Saturday, July 14, 9:00pm

Shall We Dance


Mark Sandrich, USA, 1938, 35mm, 83m
The most infectiously lighthearted of the duo’s pairings adds a lively dose of screwball to the Astaire-Rogers formula. He plays a Freudian analyst who finds himself in a spot when new patient Ginger falls id-over-ego in love with him. The zaniness—which includes a heavily sedated Rogers wreaking havoc on the streets of Manhattan—carries over into the supreme strangeness of “The Yam,” surely the weirdest dance craze never to catch on. It’s balanced by two of the most exquisitely romantic moments in the Astaire-Rogers catalogue: the breathtaking, slow motion “I Used to Be Color Blind” and “Change Partners,” in which a sorcerer-like Fred casts a love spell on the dance floor.
Saturday, July 14, 7:00pm
Sunday, July 15, 9:30pm*
Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Francesca Beale Theater, 144 West 65th Street

Follow the Fleet
Mark Sandrich, USA, 1936, 35mm, 110m
Fred and Ginger go nautical in one of their sparkiest, most underrated efforts. Trading in his trademark tails for Navy whites, Astaire is a sailor on shore leave attempting to woo former dancing partner Rogers into getting the old act back together—but she’s having none of it. The divine Irving Berlin melodies score some of the duo’s most pure-pleasure routines: the dueling dance contest spontaneity of “Let Yourself Go”; the carefree slapstick silliness of “I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket”; and, indelibly, the bittersweet enchantment of “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” with Ginger making it look easy in a weighted dress as the pair glide across a Deco dream world.
Friday, July 13, 9:15pm

The Gay Divorcee
Mark Sandrich, USA, 1934, 35mm, 107m
RKO capitalized swiftly on Astaire and Rogers’s newly minted boffo box office pairing by teaming them in their first starring vehicle. Set amidst a soundstage vision of European seaside glamor, this Hays Code-testing boudoir farce revolves around Rogers’s machinations to divorce her negligent geologist husband while being wooed by an impetuous Astaire. It’s studded, of course, with transcendent moments of cinematic dance: Astaire kicking up his heels while putzing around his apartment to “Needle in a Haystack”; the epic showstopper “The Continental”; and Fred and Ginger ascending to the heights of romantic sophistication in a dance-floor seduction set to Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.”
Friday, July 13, 2:30pm

The Barkleys of Broadway


William A. Seiter, USA, 1935, 16mm, 106m
The iconic Jerome Kern hits keep-a-coming in this toe-tapper based on the Broadway show. Though not top-billed (that would be Irene Dunne, showing off her silvery soprano), Fred and Ginger get all the best moments, her cracking wise as a phony Russian countess, him playing it cool as a Hoosier band leader who finds himself improbably comanaging a chichi Parisian dress shop. In addition to the music—which includes songbook standards “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “Yesterdays,” and “I Won’t Dance”—the highlight is Astaire and Rogers tapping out rat-a-tat-tat repartee with their feet in the wonderfully relaxed “I’ll Be Hard to Handle” routine. Print courtesy of UCLA Film & Television Archive.
Sunday, July 15, 5:00pm*
Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Francesca Beale Theater, 144 West 65th Street

Shall We Dance
Mark Sandrich, USA, 1937, 35mm, 109m
Astaire and Rogers add a third name to the their already formidable marquee: Gershwin. George and Ira contributed a cornucopia of honey-toned now-standards (“They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” “They All Laughed”) to this breezy charmer, in which Astaire’s faux-Russian ballet star Petrov (née Peter P. Peters) woos dancing sensation Rogers onboard an ocean liner. Spoiler: romantic complications ensue. Among the hoofing highlights: Astaire tapping up a storm to the rhythms of a steamship’s pistons; the duo dancing on roller skates to “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”; and a finale featuring a chorus line of masked Rogers lookalikes.
Saturday, July 14, 3:00pm
Sunday, July 15, 7:15pm*
Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Francesca Beale Theater, 144 West 65th Street

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle
H.C. Potter, USA, 1939, 35mm, 93m
The last of the Astaire-Rogers vehicles produced during their dazzling RKO run forgoes devil-may-care Deco fantasy in favor of a surprisingly moving comedic drama based on the lives of the celebrated early 1900s husband-and-wife dance team. When they meet cute on a New York beach, Vernon Castle (Astaire) is a ham vaudeville comedian and Irene (Rogers) is a stagestruck wannabe actress. But with his natural talent for dancing and her tenacity, the pair is soon the foxtrotting toast of Paris. For the first time, real world problems—financial worries, war, death—are present in the Astaire-Rogers universe, and the result is an appropriately bittersweet coda to the RKO era. Print courtesy of BFI National Film Archive.
Saturday, July 14, 5:15pm

Swing Time


Swing Time
George Stevens, USA, 1936, 35mm, 103m
Dance number for dance number, this may be Fred and Ginger’s finest hour. The pair rarely performed with such ebullience as in the “Pick Yourself Up” tap polka; with such virtuosity as in the “Waltz in Swing Time”; and with such tenderness as in the “Never Gonna Dance” closer. Subbing for usual helmer Mark Sandrich, George Stevens keeps the story—in which gambling man Fred goes to New York seeking fortune and instead finds “a fine romance” with working girl Ginger—sailing along elegantly. Add to that Astaire crooning “The Way You Look Tonight” and a Big White Set to rule them all, and you have one of the screen’s most perfect partnerships’ highest peaks.
Friday, July 13, 5:00pm
Saturday, July 14, 1:00pm

Top Hat
Mark Sandrich, USA, 1935, 35mm, 101m
The Astaire-Rogers formula was perfected in their fourth—and arguably finest—pairing. Top Hat whisks them from London—where Astaire annoys downstairs neighbor Rogers with a late-night tap session (“No Strings”), woos her in a rainy park pas de deux (“Isn’t This a Lovely Day”), then loses her (when she mistakes him for a married man)—to Venice, where they rekindle the spark whilst gliding “Cheek to Cheek” in five swooning minutes of Dream Factory perfection. Along the way, there’s masterful mugging from double-take king Edward Everett Horton, eye-popping high moderne sets, and Astaire playing marksman in the “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” showstopper.
Sunday, July 15, 5:00pm*
Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Francesca Beale Theater, 144 West 65th Street