“We only know the show must go on.”
In 1944, MGM still didn’t know quite what to do with Gene Kelly. After his debut in For Me and My Gal in 1942, they’d featured him in a few musicals and also given him a couple of dramatic roles in war films (the most recent being The Cross of Lorraine). When Columbia came calling with a desire to borrow Kelly’s services, MGM was content to accede to the request. Pending the release of Columbia’s film, MGM even allowed Kelly to go to Universal, where he made a film noir with Deanna Durbin called Christmas Holiday. When the Columbia film finally appeared, then titled Cover Girl, MGM quickly realized what they had in Kelly and brought him back to the studio where he would work exclusively for the next 12 years.
Cover Girl was more than a turning point for Gene Kelly, however. It was an important step in the career of Columbia’s Rita Hayworth. She had already shown her worth in two musicals partnered with Fred Astaire — You’ll Never Get Rich and You Were Never Lovelier. Now, in the glorious Technicolor of Cover Girl, she confirmed that ability and also her star status. Not far ahead was one of her definitive roles — Gilda.
Columbia has now released Cover Girl on DVD in a sumptuous-looking transfer.
Rusty Parker (Rita Hayworth) is one of the dancing girls at a modest Brooklyn nightclub owned by Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly). Danny also happens to be in love with Rusty. Meanwhile, a major New York magazine is doing a search for cover girls and Rusty applies. She is selected, partly because she turns out to be the granddaughter of the woman who the magazine’s editor, John Coudair (Otto Kruger), loved and lost as a young man.
Rusty’s new status presents a problem for her relationship with Danny and with Genius (Phil Silvers), a comedy entertainer at Danny’s club who is a good friend of hers too. The three of them had all been dreaming of a big break in show business, and with Rusty seemingly having got it, their future together seems limited. Rusty and Danny sever their relationship after a blow-up between the two when Rusty misses a performance at Danny’s club. Danny and Genius head off to entertain the troops while Rusty heads to Broadway and a marriage with Coudair. Or do they?
You certainly didn’t go to see Cover Girl for the story. It was a flimsy thing at the best of times and merely served as a handy structure on which to hang a number of entertaining musical numbers by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin. It must be admitted though that all the numbers did have a role to play in the advancement of the plot, something that could not be said of most musicals up to that time. Two stand out. One is the spectacular “Alter Ego” number in which Kelly dances with himself as he worries over the loss of his girl. Memorable too is the enduring “Long Ago and Far Away,” which Kelly sings to Hayworth before the two go into an exhilarating dance. This song was nominated for an Academy Award but lost out to “Swinging on a Star,” which Bing Crosby sang in Going My Way. In fact, Cover Girl was nominated for a total of five Academy Awards but won only for Best Musical Score.
To return to “Alter Ego,” though, this was the best example of the choreography work that Kelly did on the film, something that he had been denied at MGM up until that time. It was perhaps the success of this single number that resulted in MGM giving Kelly the freedom to devise his own dances and contributed to ensuring that studio’s place in film musical history as a result. The number apparently came about when Columbia boss Harry Cohn suggested that he would welcome a Kelly solo number in the film. Kelly worked closely with Stanley Donen and the film’s cameraman to ensure the precision that was required to essentially synchronize two separate dances so they could be married into a seamless single number.
As far as Rita Hayworth was concerned, the singing voice wasn’t hers, but the dances most certainly were and she demonstrates an energy and technique that made her one of the best of the screen dancers. She’s obviously enjoying herself, and the infectiousness of that pleasure rubs off on the audience and more than compensates for any story deficiencies.
We get the same spirited level of exuberance from the film’s other lead player, Phil Silvers. Silvers, who specialized in smart-aleck characters always ready with the quick quip, had knocked around Hollywood with small parts in films at several studios for half a dozen years. Like Jackie Gleason, however, his ability tended to get overlooked during his first films in Hollywood and he didn’t really blossom until his appearance on television in the 1950s. The role of “Genius” was one of his better early opportunities, allowing him to present his typical shtick and demonstrate some real ability in dance numbers as well.
The film also benefited immensely from Otto Kruger’s smooth portrayal of John Coudair and from the presence of the acerbic-tongued Eve Arden, who enhanced every film she appeared in. In Cover Girl, she plays Coudair’s assistant, Cornelia Jackson. Charles Vidor, who would later direct Rita Hayworth in Gilda and The Loves of Carmen, smoothly and unobtrusively handles the film’s direction.
Cover Girl was Columbia’s first Technicolor musical and on DVD, it looks splendid. The full frame image, in accord with the original aspect ratio, is beautifully rich and vibrant with colour that just jumps out at you. Blacks and whites are properly rendered, and shadow detail is very good. There are a few instances of grain, some speckles, and a couple of occasions where the image is a little pale, but nothing that’s really distracting. Generally, the image just looks richly detailed and entrancing. Say what you like about some of Columbia’s efforts on its classic titles, but this one’s a winner.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound is more than adequate and allows for some amplification without sounding shrill or noticeably noisy with excessive hiss. Subtitling is offered in five languages (English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai).
Unfortunately, as with most Columbia classics, the supplements are meager. We get trailers for three films (Bye Bye Birdie, Gilda, and Pal Joey), but nothing at all that relates directly to Cover Girl.
Cover Girl is one of those wartime Technicolor musical films that made both the troops overseas and people at home happy. Aside from the film’s obvious production values, its cast was a talent-loaded one typical of Hollywood product of the time. It also served as an important stepping-stone in the careers of both Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth. Columbia’s DVD allows us to see the film in all its glory and consequently understand why Kelly and Hayworth would become such big stars during the succeeding ten years. Recommended.