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Blu-Ray : For Fans Only
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Release Date: February 13th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1950

Let's Dance

Overview -

Blu-ray Review By: David Krauss

A long-neglected Fred Astaire musical at last comes to Blu-ray, and though there's not as much toe-tapping as the title might suggest, Let's Dance gives the iconic dancer several chances to strut his magnificent stuff. The always animated Betty Hutton partners Astaire in this bright yet lumbering musical that sadly gets bogged down by its thick plot. The remastered transfer showcases the Technicolor photography, robust audio brings Frank Loesser's songs to life, and a solid commentary tops off this welcome KLSC release that Astaire aficionados will eagerly embrace. For Fans Only.

For Fans Only
Rating Breakdown
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Blu-ray Disc
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p AVC/MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio(s):
Audio Formats:
English: DTS-HD MA 2.0
English SDH
Special Features:
Audio Commentary by author/film historian Lee Gambin
Release Date:
February 13th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take


The one Fred Astaire musical you've probably never seen (or even heard of) is Let's Dance. And there's a good reason why. Rarely revived or shown on TV, previously released only on VHS, and - frankly - not one of the iconic dancer's best musicals, this lively but lengthy film gets mired in its plot and features a rather weak score. Astaire performs one breathtaking solo dance atop a piano and partners the boisterous Betty Hutton with aplomb, but even his substantial magnetism and towering talent aren't enough to overcome the schizophrenic, meandering script and anemic direction.

I'm a huge Astaire admirer and until I popped Let's Dance into my player recently it stood as the only one of the star's 31 musicals I had never seen. And while my euphoria over finally checking that last box in Astaire's musical filmography softened some of the movie's faults, I couldn't in good conscience dismiss them.

The main problem with Let's Dance, if you're an Astaire fan, is it's a Betty Hutton vehicle that's tailor-made to suit her myriad abilities. Astaire gets a few moments in the spotlight, but most of time he's merely along for the ride. Hutton receives top billing and the movie was made at Paramount, her home studio. (As part of the deal MGM struck for Hutton's services for Annie Get Your Gun, the studio agreed to loan Astaire to Paramount for a Hutton musical.) Though Paramount was no stranger to musicals - one of its biggest stars was Bing Crosby - the studio didn't lavish the same hefty budgets, elegant style, and sophisticated artistry on the genre like its rival MGM. And that cut-rate, utilitarian feel pervades Let's Dance throughout. 

Another issue is the film's title, which is a bit of a misnomer. Despite the promise of plenty of fancy footwork, there's really not that much dancing in Let's Dance. That's a disappointment, especially because right off the bat Hutton proves to be a very capable partner for Astaire. (She's no Ginger when it comes to ballroom steps, but she can hoof with the best of them and perfectly executes Hermes Pan's intricate choreography.) Musicals are often criticized for their wispy narratives that simply string together a series of songs, but Let's Dance - to its detriment - goes to the other extreme. There's so much plot in director Norman Z. McLeod's film, the musical numbers sometimes feel like haphazard inserts amid the jumble of comedy and drama instead of integral elements.

For a movie with so much story, the premise is surprisingly simple. When we first meet Kitty McNeil (Hutton) and Don Elwood (Astaire), it's 1944 and they're entertaining the troops in war-torn Europe. Don announces his intention to marry Kitty after a performance, but she tearfully tells him she's already married to a U.S. fighter pilot who hails from a wealthy family. The two part ways, but cross paths five years later. Kitty is now a war widow and she and her five-year-old son have recently fled the stuffy confines of her husband’s ritzy estate after her crusty, judgmental mother-in-law Serena Everett (Lucile Watson) questioned the down-to-earth, unsophisticated Kitty’s fitness to raise her grandchild.

Don gets Kitty a job at the nightclub where he performs and the two begin to awkwardly rekindle their romance. Complications abound, as the couple must keep Serena’s spying minions (Roland Young and Melville Cooper) away from Kitty and her son, and Don tries to quash a burgeoning attraction between Kitty and a rich yet bland suitor (Shepperd Strudwick).

The script by Allan Scott, who co-wrote six Astaire-Rogers movies in the 1930s and received an Oscar nomination for 1943's So Proudly We Hail, draws out the narrative far beyond anyone’s patience, stretching what should be a 90-minute romp into a 112-minute slog. (Let’s Dance is Astaire’s fourth longest musical film.) Its attempt to blend broad comedy with pathos and music results in an unsatisfying hodgepodge that leaves the viewer trying to decipher the film’s tone. It’s almost as if someone gave Scott a list of Hutton’s qualities and ordered him to incorporate them all into the screenplay.

For any Hutton movie that fails to make the grade, it's always easy to make the actress the scapegoat. Her loud, brassy personality can become grating over the course of a movie, but she's blessedly restrained (at least for her) here, so it would be unfair to place the blame for the film's faults at her feet (no pun intended). She and Astaire click on the dance floor, but when the music stops they just don't generate the same chemistry in their dramatic scenes.

The songs aren't particularly memorable either. When I saw the name Frank Loesser pop up on the screen during the opening credits, my expectations rose exponentially, but Loesser - with a couple of exceptions -  just doesn't deliver like we hope he will, possibly because while he was writing the Let's Dance tunes, he was working concurrently on the score for Guys and Dolls, which would premiere on Broadway later that year. And if you know anything about Guys and Dolls and its practically perfect score, it's obvious that soon-to-be-classic show received the bulk of Loesser’s energy, attention, and talent. If ever there was a (rightfully) forgotten stepsister in the composer’s canon, it's Let's Dance.

There are, however, a few memorable numbers that deserve mention. All of them, with the exception of the sprightly “Tunnel of Love” finale, occur during the movie’s first half, which adds to the feeling of ennui that plagues Let’s Dance thereafter. The delightful opening patter song, "Can't Stop Talking About Him," that’s delivered at a rapid-fire pace shows off Hutton’s adept vocal and terpsichorean talents and cements her partnership with Astaire. That’s followed by the picture’s best musical sequence, an electrifying Astaire solo that showcases the dancer’s grace, agility, and uncanny ability to partner an inanimate object. Here, Astaire dances on top of, below, around, and inside a piano. You’ve gotta see it to believe it.

The final notable number is the western-themed "Oh Them Dudes," a not entirely successful attempt to duplicate the magic Astaire and Judy Garland created a couple of years earlier as tattered, dirty tramps in the classic "A Couple of Swells" sequence in Easter Parade. Astaire and Hutton portray lazy, drawling, mustachioed cowboys in this novelty number that especially complements Hutton's hammy performing style.

Let's Dance never will be regarded as one of Astaire's best musicals, but it has its moments, the best of which is Astaire's thrilling piano routine. That number alone is worth the price of the disc. Whether or not you warm up to Let's Dance largely depends on your tolerance level for Hutton, because when it comes right down to it, it's her film. Astaire eclipses her when given the chance, but those opportunities are far too few. I'm glad I finally got to see Let's Dance, but given the breadth and quality of Astaire's filmography, I can't imagine revisiting it anytime soon.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray

Let's Dance arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.

Video Review


From what I can glean from some cursory research, this Blu-ray from KLSC marks Let's Dance's digital debut. (The film was released on VHS, but there's no evidence of a DVD edition.) That's great news for musicals fans and KLSC takes great care to faithfully honor this rare film. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is struck from a remastered HD scan by Paramount Pictures that salutes the lush Technicolor cinematography of George Barnes, who won an Oscar for Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca and earned seven other nominations. Faint grain preserves the feel of celluloid, while excellent clarity and contrast produce a vibrant, detailed image that exhibits plenty of depth. Deep reds, purples, and greens, sunny yellows, and bold blues delight the eyes, inky blacks supply weight, and the bright whites resist blooming.

There is some variation in quality throughout. Some scenes are dazzlingly crisp and sport vivid hues that beautifully reflect Technicolor's garish brilliance, but others look a tad soft with faded, slightly pale color. The differences aren't severe, but they are distinct. The minor print damage, which consists of nicks, scratches, a few floating threads, and some colored blotches, isn't particularly distracting, but it's fairly consistent and disrupts what is otherwise a pristine presentation. Considering no one has seen Let's Dance on home video for at least 30 years, this rendering is very nice indeed and will surely thrill musical fans.

Audio Review


The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track outputs high-quality sound that brings extra effervescence to the musical numbers. A wide dynamic scale handles the brassy highs of the orchestrations (and Hutton's voice) and weighty bass accents without any distortion and all the dialogue and song lyrics are well prioritized and easy to comprehend. Musicals demand robust audio and this track delivers as much as it can within its technical confines.

Special Features


In addition to a slew of trailers for other KLSC releases (sadly, no preview for Let's Dance is included), the only extra is an audio commentary by author and film historian Lee Gambin. Gambin expresses fondness for
Let's Dance
 and his enthusiasm is infectious. In addition to calling the film a "hangover of 1940s women's pictures and 1930s musicals," he examines the themes of class and mother-love that permeate Let's Dance, analyzes Astaire's vocal style and contributions to the movie musical, provides overviews of the stars' careers, and addresses the movie's length. Gambin occasionally wanders away from Let's Dance to explore other relevant topics, but he's well prepared and his remarks are interesting and often insightful. If you're a fan of Astaire, Hutton, and/or this little-known picture, you'll definitely want to give his track a listen.

Final Thoughts

If only Let's Dance concentrated more on dancing and less on comedy and drama it might be more highly regarded today. Astaire and Hutton make a mismatched romantic pair, but they click on the dance floor, and it's the musical numbers that make this subpar, overlong vehicle bearable. A vibrant transfer and solid audio enhance the film's appeal, but Let's Dance is strictly For Fans Only.