Psychoanalysis has rarely been so fun as it is in Carefree. The film boasts a mixture of dance, slapstick, screwball comedy, Freudian slips, and lobster with gobs of mayonnaise. All elements that make this film unique in the Astaire and Rogers filmography.
If you love the glitz and glamour of Top Hat and The Gay Divorcee, you may not be so keen on Carefree, but if you love a heavy dose of Ginger Rogers it may be your favorite Astaire-Rogers film. I fall in the latter category. This is Ginger’s film more so than Fred Astaire’s. Usually, the roles are on a pretty even keel with Fred taking the lead occasionally. Carefree is driven by Ginger Rogers’ character. Every action is determined by her emotions–in or out of a trance.
A fellow (Ralph Bellamy) is in love with a girl (Ginger Rogers) who can’t seem to decide whether or not she’s in love with him, so the fellow brings in his Psychoanalysist best friend (Fred Astaire) to try to get to her subconscious and help her make up her mind. The girl in question, Amanda Cooper, is induced into having a dream by Dr. Flagg in which the pair dance to an Irving Berlin tune (“I Used to Be Colorblind”) that has curiously colorful lyrics (it was intended to be filmed in color). Miss Cooper sets her sights on her doctor, who in the end finds he has to psychoanalyze himself in a mirror (pictured above) to figure out his own feelings for the girl.
Carefree has witty dialogue, a great supporting cast including a subdued Jack Carson and Luella Gear, and unlike audiences of the day the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. Rogers has a great scene where she’s given anesthetic in an attempt to reduce her down to her inhibitions–she goes on a rampage, always polite in her antics, shattering glass with a wrench and pulling pranks on everyone she passes. Ginger plays it to perfection.
This glimpse into the then modern psychoanalysis was both playful and satiric in nature. Surely, anyone packing a punch can get to the subconscious mind, right? Even though the science is far from accurate and the principles used appear highly can be viewed as highly manipulative, there’s something at work under the surface, intended or not that gives both a slap and a nod to the practices of the day. The only other films that I can think of that even indulge themselves in a dab of Freud from the 1930s is Four Wives. In the 40s, there were a scant few that popped up like Random Harvest, King’s Row, and Now Voyager all from 1942 and Spellbound (1945).
Speaking of playfulness, my favorite number from the film is “The Yam.” It’s insane, it’s fun, it’s inventive. It’s all the best of Fred and Ginger put in a completely random context and situation.
Another dance routine that is a little awkward is the reprise of “Change Partners.” It’s an inventive number, but it involves Dr. Flagg trying to dance Amanda Cooper into a trance to change the thoughts he had put into her head earlier–“Dr. Flagg is a horrible monster, he should be shot down like a dog.” Ralph Bellamy’s character fights to get her back and tries to play these new thoughts in Amanda’s head to his advantage. Seems Amanda has no choice, as she’s being tossed back and forth by the two men.
Quips aside, this is a wonderful film that is overlooked and under-appreciated except perhaps by those who love Ginger Rogers comedies–indeed, my favorite. Despite how the two male leads manipulate Amanda Cooper, she comes off as a strong woman who is not at all maladjusted to her world at all. She has equal footing with Fred Astaire and the male characters in the film, cutting nearly every one of them down to size at some point in the plot. It’s a delightful little venture into screwball comedy.