The Sky's the Limit (1943 film)
|The Sky's the Limit|
|Directed by||Edward H. Griffith|
|Produced by||David Hempstead|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
|Running time||89 minutes|
The Sky's The Limit (1943) is a romantic musical comedy film starring Fred Astaire and Joan Leslie, with music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Johnny Mercer. The film was directed by Edward H. Griffith, and released by RKO Radio Pictures.
This was an unusual departure for Astaire, one which caused some consternation among film critics and fans at the time, though not enough to prevent the film doing well. Aside from the dancing - which contains a famous solo performance to the standard "One For My Baby", described by Astaire as "the best song specially written for me" -- the script provided him with his first opportunity to act in a serious dramatic role, and one with which his acting abilities, sometimes disparaged, appear to cope. Astaire plays a Flying Tiger pilot on leave. (Robert T. Smith, also a former Flying Tiger pilot, on leave before joining the Army Air Forces, was the technical adviser on the film.) The comedy is provided by Robert Benchley (in his second appearance in an Astaire picture) and Eric Blore, a stalwart from the early Astaire-Rogers pictures. Last, but not least, is the Hollywood pairing of Arlen with Mercer.
During World War II, Flying Tiger triple ace Lieutenant Fred Atwill (Astaire) and his almost-as-successful comrades, Reginald Fenton (Robert Ryan) and Richard Merlin (an uncredited Richard Davies), are brought back to the United States for a ticker tape parade and a ten-day "leave". The only trouble is, they are expected to spend all their time on a nationwide morale-boosting tour. Fred sneaks off the train at a rural stop to seek some fun.
He eventually ends up in New York City. He spots a beautiful woman, Joan Manion (Leslie), going into a nightclub and follows her in. Eavesdropping, he learns that she is a newspaper photographer fed up with taking pictures of celebrities. Her pleas for an assignment in a war zone fall on deaf ears. Her boss, newspaper publisher Phil Harriman (Robert Benchley), likes her just where she is, nearby so he can try to wear her down and persuade her to marry him.
Fred, giving himself the last name "Burton" to hide his identity, romances her himself in an annoyingly persistent way, even renting a room in the building she lives in. Eventually, however, she starts to like him, despite what she considers to be a lack of ambition on his part; he does not seem to have or want a job.
She lets him take her on a date, though she steers him into a crowded canteen (where she does volunteer work) entertaining servicemen. When a performer cancels on short notice, Joan is recruited to sing a number; Fred invites himself along and sings and dances with her. Afterward, he runs into his fellow pilots. While Richard dances with Joan, Reginald amuses himself by blackmailing Fred into doing a snake dance on the table in exchange for not revealing who he really is.
Joan tries hard to get Fred a job. When she learns that he once worked as a reporter, she arranges an interview with Phil. Fred, with his leave running out, instead spends the time giving Phil pointers on how to win Joan over, even setting up a romantic dinner at Phil's penthouse with the assistance of Jackson (Eric Blore), Phil's butler. Phil blunders, however, and reveals to Joan what Fred is doing, and it is Fred who ends up spending the evening with her. Joan proposes marriage, leaving Fred in an uncomfortable situation.
Later, Reginald informs Fred that their leave has been cut short; they only have two more days. Since Fred still does not have a job, Joan takes him along to a banquet honoring airplane manufacturer Harvey J. Sloan (an uncredited Clarence Kolb). She introduces Fred to Sloan, but instead of making a good impression as he had promised, he criticizes the fighter built by Sloan. When Joan finds out, she breaks up with him.
Afterward, Phil takes him to a bar, where he reveals that he has found out Fred's true identity. Fred asks him to keep his secret, and proceeds to get drunk, going bar hopping to the song "One for My Baby".
The next day, Phil makes one last attempt to get Joan to marry him. When that fails, he sends her to the airfield to take pictures of pilots returning to the fighting in the Pacific. There she spots Fred in his uniform, and all becomes clear to her. They embrace, and Fred confesses he loves her before he has to leave.
Key songs/dance routines
All dances were choreographed by and credited to Astaire alone, another unusual departure for him, as he generally worked with collaborators. What is not unusual is the selection of dance routines, which is the standard Astaire formula of a comic partnered routine, a romantic partnered routine and a "sock" solo, each of which is seamlessly integrated into the plot.
- My Shining Hour (song): Arlen and Mercer's simple and hymn-like wartime ballad, the picture's signature song, is mimed by Joan Leslie (dubbed here by Sally Sweetland) against the crude backdrop of a band whose instruments are framed with illuminated neon outlines. It became a hit, albeit slowly.
- A Lot In Common With You: Astaire muscles in on Leslie's (using her own voice this time) on-stage song-and-dance routine, which develops into a mock competitive comic side-by-side tap dance using a range of leg-before-leg hurdling steps, some of which had been developed for The Shorty George number in You Were Never Lovelier, but had not been used.
- My Shining Hour (dance): This partnered ballroom-style romantic dance with Joan Leslie is one of consummation, exploring the spatial themes of distance and closeness.[original research?] Astaire uses distance to admire Leslie and closeness to embrace her, and this is juxtaposed with the music of Shining Hour - whose lyric refers to imminent parting - to emphasize the film's wartime themes of fragility and mortality.[original research?]
- One For My Baby: The number took two and a half days to shoot, after seven days of full set rehearsal. After a drunken rendition of the song, he furiously tap dances up and down the bar, pausing only to smash stacked racks of glasses and a mirror. Astaire's first drunk dance was the comic routine You're Easy To Dance With in Holiday Inn, but this solo marks his first clear departure from a carefully crafted screen image of urbane charm.
- Mention must also be made of the tabletop snake dance performed by Astaire at the behest of Robert Ryan's character.
The story line was taken from a Saturday Evening Post story about an attractive young woman from Texas who was an assistant/employee/(lover?) of an older man prominent in New York City literary circles. In the story, the young woman leaves her glamorous job to marry a young man who is going off to World War II. This character is altered a good bit to fit Fred Astaire in the movie.
According to RKO records, the film earned $1,410,000 in the US and Canada and $775,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $625,000.
- RKO Film Grosses, 1929-1951: the C. J. Tevlin ledger
- Fred Astaire: Steps in Time, 1959, multiple reprints.
- Joan Leslie in Icons Radio - Interview with John Mulholland, June 10, 2007. 
- John Mueller: Astaire Dancing - The Musical Films of Fred Astaire, Knopf 1985, ISBN 0-394-51654-0