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Roberta is a 1935 musical film by RKO starring Irene Dunne, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and Randolph Scott. It was an adaptation of a 1933 Broadway theatremarker musical of the same name, which in turn was based on the novel Gowns by Roberta by Alice Duer Miller. It was a solid hit, showing a net profit of more than three quarters of a million dollars.

The film kept the famed songs "Yesterdays" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" from the play, along with a third song, "I'll Be Hard to Handle". But it replaced three others ("The Touch of Your Hand", "Something Had To Happen" and "You're Devastating") with Jerome Kern's "I Won't Dance" and "Lovely to Look At", which both became #1 hits in 1935, the latter being nominated for the Best Song Oscar. These new numbers have remained so popular that they are now always included in revivals and recordings of Roberta. Other songs from the show were omitted from the film.

Roberta is the third Astaire-Rogers film, and the only one to be remade with other actors. MGM did so in 1952, entitling the new Technicolor version Lovely to Look At. Indeed, with an eye to a sequel, MGM bought Roberta in 1945, keeping it out of general circulation until the 1970s.


John Kent (Randolph Scott), a former star football player at Harvardmarker, goes to Paris with his friend Huck Haines (Fred Astaire) and the latter's dance band, the Wabash Indianians. Alexander Voyda (Luis Alberni) has booked the band, but refuses to let them play when he finds the musicians are not the Indians he expected, but merely from the state.

John turns to the only person he knows in Paris for help, his Aunt Minnie (Helen Westley), who owns the fashionable "Roberta" gown shop. While there, he meets her chief assistant (and secretly the head designer), Stephanie (Irene Dunne). John is quickly smitten with her.

Meanwhile, Huck unexpectedly stumbles upon someone he knows very well. "Countess Scharwenka", a temperamental customer at Roberta's, turns out to be his hometown sweetheart Lizzie Gatz (Ginger Rogers). She gets Huck's band an engagement at the nightclub where she is a featured entertainer.

Two things trouble John. One is Ladislaw (Victor Varconi), the handsome Russian doorman/deposed prince who seems too interested in Stephanie. The other is the memory of Sophie (Claire Dodd), the snobbish, conceited girlfriend he left behind after a quarrel over his lack of sophistication and polish.

When Aunt Minnie dies unexpectedly without leaving a will, John inherits the shop. Knowing nothing about women's fashion and that his aunt intended for Stephanie to inherit the business, he persuades Stephanie to remain as his partner. Correspondents flock to hear what a football player has to say about feminine fashions. Huck gives the answers, making a lot of weird statements about the innovations John is planning to introduce.

Sophie arrives in Paris, attracted by John's good fortune. She enters the shop, looking for a dress, but is dissatisfied with everything Stephanie shows her. Huck persuades her to choose a gown that John had ordered discarded as too vulgar. When John sees her in it, they quarrel for the final time.

John reproaches Stephanie for selling Sophie the gown. Terribly hurt, Stephanie quits the shop. With Roberta's putting on a fashion show in a week, Huck takes over the design work, with predictably bad results. When Stephanie sees his awful creations, she is persuaded to return to save Roberta's reputation.

The show is a triumph, helped by the entertaining of Huck, Countess Scharwenka, and the band. (A pre-stardom Lucille Ball, with platinum blond hair, appears uncredited in her first RKO film as a model in the fashion show.) The closing sensation is a gown modeled by Stephanie herself. At the show, John overhears that she and Ladislaw are leaving Paris and mistakenly assumes that they have married. Later, he congratulates her for becoming a princess. When she informs him that Ladislaw is merely her cousin and that the title has been hers since birth, the lovers are reunited. Fred and Ginger do a final tap dance sequel.


Musical numbers

  • The Pipe Organ Number Astaire performing on the hands of his band arranged as a keyboard
  • Let's Begin Comedy song and dance number by Astaire, Candy Candido and Gene Sheldon (Bernardo on the future Zorro television series), with band
  • Yesterdays Sung by Dunne, with guitar and string bass accompaniment
  • I'll be Hard to Handle Double dance by Astaire and Rogers, a tap number in which they "talk with their feet." (Repartee expressed in dance steps)
  • Lovely to Look At Dunne solo and Rogers & Astaire dance
  • I Won't Dance Song by Rogers, Astaire at piano; followed by a solo dance to the melody by Astaire
  • Smoke Gets in Your Eyes Sung by Irene Dunne (reprise danced by Ginger and Fred)
  • Russian Lullaby Sung by Dunne with balalaika orchestra
  • Fashion Pageant Parade of models in an array of costumes to a medley of songs, with Astaire as master of ceremonies
  • Touch of Your Hand Sung by Dunne
  • Finale Dance Astaire and Rogers


  1. Roberta cast at Internet Movie Database

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