Exciting loveliness and rhythm in a star-spangled army musical!
In the long history of film as a medium, there may still be no better special effect than the sight of Rita Hayworth dancing. I know beauty is subjective and all that, but there has never been a movie star as breathtakingly beautiful and big-screen charismatic as Hayworth, whose movie star quality is so iconic that a single shot of her flipping her hair (you know the one; it’s from Gilda) is as well-known as the shark popping out of the water in Jaws. As much as I can appreciate seeing her use her beauty and charm to villainous effect as the femme fatale of a movie like The Lady from Shanghai, I always prefer Hayworth in likable, romantic comedy mode. Thankfully, that’s exactly where we find her in the 1941 musical You’ll Never Get Rich, now available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
Hayworth makes her starring debut here as Sheila, a dancer with a crush on her company manager Robert Curtis (Fred Astaire), who returns her affections. Unfortunately, when the womanizing theater owner (Robert Benchley) makes a move for Sheila and gets caught by his wife, he has to throw Robert under the bus and complicates any potential romance between he and Sheila. So Robert does what any man would do: he gets drafted into the army, where the lies only get bigger and more complicated after he tells Sheila he’s been promoted to Captain. Eventually, all the mistake identity and half-truths work them out through the production of an army musical starring enlisted men and which, wouldn’t you know it, happens to have an opening for a female lead.
With music and songs by Cole Porter and sparkling comic direction by Sidney Lanfield, You’ll Never Get Rich is a charming, lovely little musical that’s also fairly commonplace for this period in Hollywood history. It lacks the great dialogue of true screwball comedy and the story it tells is pretty unremarkable, but the movie more than compensates with wonderful performances and some characteristically great choreography by Astaire and frequent collaborator Robert Alton. The movie’s show-stopping set piece is “March Milastaire,” a solo tap number performed by Astaire in the army barracks. It’s every bit as wonderful as the “Bojangles” number in Swing Time but without any of the grossness that comes along with seeing Astaire perform in blackface. The only thing that’s missing from the number is Rita Hayworth, who positively glows in her starring debut and who is a joy to watch dance, even if she’s not quite up to the abilities of Astaire or his regular co-star Ginger Rogers. Hayworth could miss six steps in a row and I don’t think I would notice because she sells the joy of dance in her physicality. You’ll Never Get Rich offers one of those truly special moments in cinema: we get to see a movie star born in the span of a single film.
The movie makes its HD debut thanks to Twilight Time, who give the title their usual limited run of 3,000 units. The black and white feature is presented in its 1.33 full frame aspect ratio and is up to the high standards of quality usually afforded to Sony’s restorations. The transfer offers strong contrast and crisp detail, with virtually no signs of age or wear. The lossless mono track offers clear dialogue and solid music reproduction without the noisy hiss that can sometimes afflict older titles (though, to be fair, I tend to love the hiss). As they normally do, Twilight Time has also included a separate audio track containing only the music and effects. The only other bonus feature is the original theatrical trailer.
I don’t think You’ll Never Get Rich is one of Fred Astaire’s best musicals — he simply has too many true classics for this one to stand a chance — but it is very enjoyable, with a couple of shows topping numbers and a luminous performance from Rita Hayworth. This was the first time I’ve seen her in a musical, to be honest, and it’s such a joy to watch her dance that I’ll be seeking out each and every musical she made subsequent to this post haste. I love how rather than releasing the big titles that everyone already knows, Twilight Time continues to put out these gems that are just off the beaten path and give audiences a chance to discover great, lesser-known films in the best possible presentation. If you don’t already own any Rita Hayworth in HD, you don’t know what you’re missing.