Love isn't easy for Rita and Gene in... Cover Girl (1944)
One of my favorite musicals has got to be Cover Girl, an underrated film that stars two of my favorite actors, Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly. Oddly enough, Columbia had to be convinced to hire Kelly. In 1944, he wasn't yet known for his inventive routines and his skillful directing. Dennis Morgan was actually who Columbia wanted first, but producer Arthur Schwartz was able to convince studio head Harry Cohn that Kelly was right for the role, even after Cohn reportedly said "That tough Irish face! He can't be in the same frame as Rita, my Rita!" (Um, how dare you, sir. Gene was beautiful.) Gene was lured to the project by Schwartz, who promised that he could choreograph, something he hadn't been able to do at MGM. In the end, Schwartz's choice was validated and Kelly more than proved his mettle.
"The Show Must Go On." One of these girls is Rusty Parker (Hayworth), a stunning redhead with a dazzling smile. As the women perform, we see that this joint isn't exactly first-rate -- their singing isn't great and their dancing is sometimes out of sync. From backstage, the club's owner and choreographer, Danny McGuire (Kelly), cringes at the performance and he tells the ladies as they head to their dressing room that he wants them to show up for rehearsals at 9 am instead of the usual 10 am. They aren't thrilled, but they know better than to pick a fight with Danny. Except for Maurine
The next morning at the offices of John Coudair (Otto Kruger), Vanity's editor-in-chief, we see that Rusty was persuaded by Maurine's words, even though she is dating Danny and he would be furious with her. Rusty really doesn't have much confidence that she'll win anyway, especially after she sees the many beautiful
here. Later, Stonewall updates Coudair on the contest and tells him that the only woman she felt looked "new" enough for the cover was Maurine. The two of them decide to go to Danny's club to check Maurine out in her "natural habitat."
"Who's Complaining?" This song is a reminder that this film was made during WWII as Genius sings about the rationing and the substitutions Americans have to deal with to help the war. Genius then encounters four women who sing of the sacrifices they'd had to make for the soldiers, such as trading in their nylon stockings for cotton. In the audience, Coudair becomes enchanted by the sight of Rusty and tells Stonewall to bring the girl to his office in the morning.
Stonewall is shocked by her boss's decision until they go back to his house and he hands her a show program from 1904. On the cover is none other than Rusty! Well, actually, it's a woman named Maribelle, a singer who looks remarkably like Rusty. While Coudair reminisces, the film flashes back to the first time he saw Maribelle, which was when she performed a song called "Sure Thing." (Hayworth's voice, by the way, was dubbed by Martha Mears.) Despite Maribelle's romance with a piano player, Coudair instantly fell in love with her and promised her a life of luxury.
"Make Way for Tomorrow," with lyrics by both Gershwin and E.Y. Harburg. The three take their merrymaking outside as they dance through the streets. It's a fun number and one of several that Gene Kelly did on a street set (Singin' in the
"Make Way for Tomorrow" ends at the apartment building where Danny and Genius live across from Rusty (how scandalous!). Outside of Rusty's door they find a telegram asking her to come to Vanity. Rusty immediately becomes distracted, which worries Danny and Genius. Unwilling to see the group break up, Genius talks Rusty into ripping up the telegram. When he goes back out to the hallway, though, he sees Rusty quickly picking up the pieces.
"Put Me to the Test." Set at a dress shop, Danny plays an employee who falls for a model portrayed by Rusty. It's lovely to see Kelly and Hayworth dance such a fantastic routine together. I always forget what a great dancer Hayworth was; I think a lot of people do since the shadow of Gilda has so overwhelmed her career. Someone who doesn't overlook the lady's talent is Noel Wheaton (Lee Bowman), a stage impresario who has been brought to see Rusty by Coudair. Backstage, Noel asks Rusty to come work for him, a decision that Danny says is completely up
After the club has closed for the night, Genius plays the piano while Danny changes lightbulbs. As Rusty walks in wearing a fancy new dress a store sent her for free, Danny, unaware that she is there, laments the possibility that he will lose her. The dialogue here is precious.
Danny: "Best goodbye music I ever danced to. ... To see a thing like that happen right under your nose, something you've wanted for someone all their life."
Danny, realizing she is there: "Six months then."
D: "Seven then."
R: "Seven months, three days, four hours, and twenty-three minutes. It was Tuesday."
Rusty then begins to sing "Long Ago and Far Away," one of the most romantic songs Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin were ever part of. The men earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song for the tune, but Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen took
Before he can lick his wounds, though, Genius informs him that Coudair called and invited him to pick Rusty up from the dinner. After all, it's Friday night and their tradition at Joe's oyster bar is waiting! When Danny arrives at Coudair's house, he finds the place empty and figures out he is really there for an ambush. Coudair
He recounts taking Maribelle, now his fiancée, to meet his mother and how humiliating the encounter was for Maribelle. To get back at Coudair, she continually performed the number "Poor John" until everyone became aware that she was singing about Coudair. "Poor John," by the way, was written by Henry E. Pether and Fred W. Leigh, not Kern and Gershwin. Also, you might
pearlies, who were associated with London's working class, hence the accent. I'm not sure why the film made the connection between this song and pearlies, though. Anyway, an angry Coudair confronted Maribelle in her dressing room. She told him that she was exactly where she belonged and she was still in love with the piano player, but Coudair refused to listen and insisted they go through with their marriage.
While she is having the time of her life, Danny and Genius sadly wait for her at Joe's. When it becomes obvious that Rusty isn't going to come, Danny goes for a walk alone. As he attempts to come to terms with Rusty's fame and what that means for them, he glances at his reflection in a store window only to see it take on a life of its own. The infamous "Alter Ego Dance" is the manifestation of Danny's inner struggle. It's also just a genius piece of cinema. Using trick photography to dance with an imaginary version of himself, Kelly endured what he often called his most difficult routine. Thanks to superimposition, he could achieve the
To help him, Kelly brought to the film Stanley Donen, a young man who was in the chorus of Kelly's breakthrough show Pal Joey. Donen and Kelly became friends and, starting on Cover Girl, collaborators who would craft some of Hollywood's best films. Donen helped with Cover Girl's choreography and during the "Alter Ego Dance," he stood by the cameraman and instructed him on the timing of the camera's movements since he and Kelly wanted fluid shots that moved along the street rather than something static. Director Charles Vidor actually didn't believe the number could be done and he shut down production! "He never thought you could do that dance," Kelly recalled. "He laughed and left. So that was great. I had all this freedom."
"The Girl on the Magazine Cover") and Singin' in the Rain ("Beautiful Girl"), where women would just pose in nice clothes and it was set to music and sometimes narrated. I'm not a fan of these numbers, but I still took a lot of screenshots that you can check out at the end of my post. It's pretty disappointing that we have to endure this number but we couldn't get a full-fledged dance to "Long Ago and Far Away." The only thing that makes it better is Hayworth's portion. The curtains open, revealing a large and curvy runway that Rusty runs down while a group of men in blue suits wait at its end. She then does some Vera-Ellen-level lifts and taps, only to run back up the runway as gold confetti rains down. It's super weird but I enjoy it.
"Put Me to the Test" with lots of silly verses. Kelly and Silvers look like they're having such a ball with their routine. The fun is interrupted, though, when the truck abruptly stops, sending everyone flying. By sheer coincidence, a billboard beside the men features Rusty's face. As Danny sadly stares at it, he overhears one of the soldiers say he saw in the paper that Rusty was getting married. Well, that's depressing.
Genius can't sit by and watch this. He takes the pearl to Coudair's
Cover Girl is notable for quite a few things. It was Columbia's first Technicolor musical, and songwriter Arthur Schwartz's first film that he produced. It was a huge success at the box office and it was a great boost to the careers of both Hayworth and Kelly. MGM was finally forced to see what a brilliant, creative force Kelly was. From this film on, he was able to craft his own dances. With Cover Girl being a triumph, Columbia bought the rights to Pal Joey and planned on re-teaming Hayworth and Kelly. In an ironic twist, now that Columbia demonstrated what a star Kelly was, MGM didn't want to loan him out for the project. When Columbia finally did make Pal Joey, it was in 1957 with Kelly's best friend Frank Sinatra, Kim Novak, and... Rita Hayworth. Read more about it here.
Throughout the movie, there isn't a moment where Hayworth doesn't look luminous. She is easily one of the most breathtaking women I've ever seen, and I always love watching her perform. She was a natural entertainer with unwavering charisma and sensuality. I just adore her in this movie. She was such a great match for Gene, too. Hayworth wound up being one of the six lucky women who danced with both Gene and Fred Astaire. Some sources even say that Astaire privately considered her his favorite partner.
Patricia also wrote that Gene had a marvelous time working with Silvers and Hayworth. (They can be seen pictured above messing around with Charles Vidor.) Interestingly enough, Gene would again play a character named Danny McGuire in 1980's Xanadu, thirty-six years after Cover Girl. And get this -- Xanadu's plot was inspired by Down to Earth!
An impressive musical with an astounding pedigree, Cover Girl is not to be missed!
This is my contribution to the Eve Arden Blogathon, a celebration of the fabulous comedienne. Check out the other entries here!