The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939)

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The last of RKO's Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers vehicles, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle is also the least typical. At their best playing carefree characters in gossamer-thin musical comedy plotlines, Fred and Ginger seem slightly ill at ease cast as the real-life dancing team of Vernon and Irene Castle. The stripped-to-essentials storyline boils down to novice dancer Irene (Rogers) convincing vaudeville comic Vernon (Astaire) to give up slapstick in favor of "classy" ballroom dancing. With the help of agent Edna May Oliver, the Castles hit their peak of fame and fortune in the immediate pre-World War I years. When Vernon is called to arms, Irene stays behind in the US, making patriotic movie serials to aid the war effort. Vernon is killed in a training accident, leaving a tearful Irene to carry on alone. To soften the shock of Astaire's on-screen death (it still packs a jolt when seen today), RKO inserted a closing "dream" dancing sequence, with a spectral Vernon and Irene waltzing off into the heavens. The film's production was hampered by the on-set presence of the real Irene Castle, whose insistence upon accuracy at all costs drove everyone to distraction--especially Ginger Rogers, who felt as though she was being treated like a marionette rather than an actress. In one respect, Mrs. Castle had good reason to be so autocratic. Walter, the "severest critic servant" character played by Walter Brennan, was in reality a black man. RKO was nervous about depicting a strong, equal-footing friendship between the white Castles and their black retainer, so a Caucasian actor was hired for the role. Mrs. Castle was understandably incensed by this alteration, and for the rest of her days chastised RKO for its cowardice. As it turned out, it probably wouldn't have mattered if Walter had been black, white, Chicano or Siamese; The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle was a financial bust, losing $50,000 at the box office. Perhaps as a result, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers would not team up again for another ten years.

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Cast

Fred Astaire
as Vernon Castle
Ginger Rogers
as Irene Castle
Edna May Oliver
as Maggie Sutton
Lew Fields
as Himself
Etienne Girardot
as Papa Aubel
Janet Beecher
as Mrs. Foote
Rolfe Sedan
as Emile Aubel
Robert Strange
as Dr. Foote
Douglas Walton
as Student Pilot
Clarence Derwent
as Papa Louis
Sonny Lamont
as Charlie
Frances Mercer
as Claire Ford
Victor Varconi
as Grand Duke
Donald MacBride
as Hotel Manager
Dick Elliott
as Conductor
David McDonald
as Army Pilot
John Meredith
as Army Pilot
Tiny Jones
as Lady in Revolving Door
Marge Champion
as Irene's Girl Friend
Hal K. Dawson
as Man in Audience
Don Brodie
as Stage Manager
Bruce Mitchell
as Movie Director
Melinda Wood Allen
as Messenger at Beach
Elspeth Dudgeon
as Lady Bolton
Lynton Brent
as Mechanic
Mary Brodel
as Girlfriend
Tom Chatterton
as Announcer
Eleanor Hansen
as Girlfriend
Jacques Lory
as Cab Driver
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Critic Reviews for The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle

All Critics (6)

If joy and liberation exudes from the best Astaire-Rogers films, this is defined by restriction.

Full Review… | November 3, 2016
LarsenOnFilm

It's not exactly a stretch for Astaire and Rogers, but they do the old rags-to-riches angle seamlessly, and the finale is surprisingly touching.

Full Review… | October 13, 2011
Film and Felt

Lesser Astaire-Rogers vehicle, but pleasant.

May 24, 2006
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

The duo's most unusual film, a surprisingly effective tearjerker

March 18, 2005
Kalamazoo Gazette

Audience Reviews for The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle

This film has a surprisingly lavish production and the most engaging, as well as time enduring story of the Astaire/Rogers pairings that I've seen so far.

Vadim Dyment
Vadim Dyment

Astaire & Rogers' final RKO film together is a conventional musical biography with plenty of dancing.

Michael Troudt
Michael Troudt

And they are gone: ay, ages long ago These lovers fled away into the storm.

These lines, the opening of the final stanza of John Keats' The Eve of St. Agnes, come to mind as the long run of Ginger and Fred comes to an end. It's their escape into the realm of legend.

Heartbreaking. Although they would reunite through a twist of fate a decade later, this was the last intentional pairing of Rogers and Astaire, the end of their nine film run into cinematic history.

Perhaps because this tragic story is based on the real lives of Vernon and Irene Castle, and, of course, the untimely death of Vernon Castle, that story and the end of the Rogers and Astaire dynasty combine for an even sadder double impact. To see them, in the end, dancing off into the distance in Ginger's/Irene's imagination heightens the melancholy of the moment. The characters and the actors are gone, ay ages long ago. The greatest dancing duo in movie history -- then, now, and forever.

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