I (hope I) am far from alone in considering Ginger Rogers one of the greatest screen actors of all time. There’s her range of talent, certainly. She could be funny or touching (or both). She could dance, and she could sing. She avoided playing the same character over and over, yet retained something of a consistent star persona. One could guess a bit at one gets from a Ginger Rogers picture, but even that seemed to change year to year, a diverse range of expression quite well represented by three films that played at this year’s Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival – 5th Avenue Girl, Bachelor Mother, and Hat Check Girl.
The prospect of starting off the festival with two Ginger Rogers films was too good to pass up, and both 5th Avenue Girl and Bachelor Mother proved well worth their while. For those of us who came to love her through her Pre-Code musicals, these later films are often a real revelation. In both films, she plays the absolute moral center, at once intensely put-upon yet able to bear it all. Gregory La Cava’s 5th Avenue Girl (1939) sees her play a near-penniless working girl who happens to meet a wealthy industrialist (played by Walter Connolly), who himself happens to be a bit lonely on his birthday. Fortunately for Rogers, he’s not after the kind of company she initially suspects, and soon enough, they’re off to dine and dance. The evening goes so well, he hires her to make his uncaring family jealous by just merely spending time with him.