The terms Icon and Iconic are freely used by the erudite and the uninformed, as well, to characterize the place of this temporary star or that occasional player as they spin their way in and out of the spotlight never to be heard from again. In Fred Astaire, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, we have three guys who, time and again over long careers could be counted upon to deliver the real goods (and some clunkers occasionally). Alec Wilder, in his study of American Songs in the first half of the twentieth century, spoke glowingly of Shining Hour as a song almost prayerful in its resonance; although not here given the performance it should have had by Astaire (who does only a nice parody of it). Nonetheless, it is haunting in its role as a reverberant theme throughout the film. Astaires performance of the barroom song, beginning "Its quarter to three..." became and remained the classic boozy lament; true, for younger audiences who did not remember the earlier version, Frank Sinatra captured the song for himself (as he made a Paul Anka song his trademark though the songwriter/performer had designed it for Paul Anka to sing), Sinatra does one of his best jobs on it and deserves full credit, but Astaire's rendition remains sui generis. How better to characterize Fred's dancing than as dances by Astaire. There were none better than him...and he came first. By highlighting the three who made the film, I don't ignore Robert Benchley, humorist of the baffled average man. His defeated second fiddle lover is distinctive and, in addition, we get a brief illustration of the monological style which earned him an Oscar for a short subject he did. Joan Leslie is a nice girl whose singing and dancing are sufficient unto the day without challenging Rogers or Hayworth (whose singing was dubbed)but did not look at all bad alongside Astaire's then recent film partner, Bing Crosby, in the marvelously entertaining, Holiday Inn (remember White Christmas). Robert Ryan has a look-in part showing little of the talent that later made him so solid a performer.
As to the picture itself, it was made to appeal to an audience which to that date had seen mostly defeat and death for its armed forces. It was be be sentimental yet gay. This the film does well. No, it is not an iconic Hollywood production nor is it an iconic Astaire performance; it is a Wartime film made to provide a few laughs and a slight tug on the emotions in an audience many of whose husbands, fathers and brothers, many of whose sweethearts, would never return from take-offs from airfields pretty much like the closing shots of the film. I think many of you will find it appealing. Just don't expect Top Hat or The Gay Divorcee.