In 1949, a full ten years after their ninth and last film for RKO Radio Pictures, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers reunited under the aegis of MGM for their swan song, The Barkleys of Broadway.

In some ways, this is really a perfect final film for the pair. It opens where most of their vehicles close: they are married, and they are a phenomenally successful dance team. From there, it moves into quarelling and disagreement that cut perhaps a bit close to the bone (Fred plays a control freak, Ginger plays an okay actress who hates being pigeonholed as a musical star). Obviously, the two end up together, but it's a longer and more cynical road to get there than we're used to. This is the adult Fred and Ginger movie, if you will.

But for all that, it doesn't feel right. There's something about this project that just doesn't call out "Astaire & Rogers" like there previous films. A large part of the problem, though it pains me to suggest such a thing, is that this a Freed Unit production, and it has all the hallmarks of a Freed film: flashy setpieces, luscious Technicolor, artistic pretentions, mellerdrama, etc. While, frankly, RKO was really a b-movie studio. Top Hat, Swing Time and their ilk were elegant and classy, they were modest, too: there was always a "gee whiz! We're making a movie!" sense of fun, while the MGM film is more stifling, more formalized, and more decadent. Part of this, of course, is the great divide between pre- and post-WWII cinema. Trust me, there's a huge change in tone that happened in Hollywood filmmaking in late 1941, and while it's hard to verbalize, it's easy to notice. And maybe Fred and Ginger just worked better on the other side.

(The easiest way to compare the two tones is to take "They Can't Take That Away From Me," which appears hear after it's premiere in Shall We Dance. Functionally, both occurrences appear to remind Ginger that she's in love with Fred. But in the older film, there's a bittersweet nonchalance, as Fred leans against a ferry rail and nurses a broken heart. Here, it's an opulent ballroom number, that just feels so...rehearsed.)

Ultimately, the flaws in The Barkleys of Broadway are the flaws of age. Fred and Ginger are getting older. They look it. And they were probably tired of having to be "Fred and Ginger." So this is the end. And while it's a disappointing farewell, it's appropriate. They go out dancing, inevitably, and they still have it. More than anyone else ever did.

Without you by my side, I fear
No future could I face,
For you'd be oh so hard to replace