Marge: Why do you muff [that dance routine] just when Mr. Curtis is
Between 1933 and 1939, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made nine pictures together for RKO (they reunited briefly for a tenth film in 1949). Thereafter, Ginger mostly left the song-and-dance world, and set out to prove herself as a dramatic actress. Fred stayed true to his roots, starring in over 30 musicals in a long career. After Ginger, he never again had a regular partner, but danced with a wide variety of stars, including Eleanor Powell, Paulette Goddard, Joan Leslie, Judy Garland, Vera-Ellen, Betty Hutton, Jane Powell, Cyd Charisse, Leslie Caron, and Audrey Hepburn.
For You'll Never Get Rich (1941), Columbia paired Astaire with Ginger Rogers's cousin-by-marriage—a gorgeous, up-and-coming bombshell named Rita Hayworth. She had beauty, glamour, and a knockout set of legs (or "gams," in the lingo of that time). When the US entered World War II at the end of the year, Hayworth became one of the most popular "pin-up girls" among the GIs. Now, Columbia TriStar has released You'll Never Get Rich on DVD.
Facts of the Case
Robert Curtis (Astaire) is a successful choreographer and performer for a New York-based show. The wife of the philandering owner of the theater, Martin Cortland (Robert Benchley), discovers an engraved diamond bracelet in her husband's pocket meant for one of the chorus girls, Sheila Winthrop (Rita Hayworth). To save his marriage, Martin tries to convince his wife that he was holding the bracelet for Robert, his friend and employee. Though Sheila likes Robert (and often flubs her dance routines so she can receive a private lesson), when she discovers this ploy, she ends their flirtation. The next day, Sheila's long-term boyfriend, Tom Barton (John Hubbard), sees an intimate newspaper photo of Sheila with Robert. After Sheila reassures him that there's nothing between them, Barton pretends to be Sheila's brother and, with mock rage, threatens Robert's life. Robert, who has received a draft notice (but is likely to be rejected for being underweight), cheats on his induction physical and happily joins the Army to escape Barton.
Sheila returns the diamond bracelet to Robert, who can't stop thinking about her. When she unexpectedly appears at the base, Robert impersonates an Army Captain so he can spend time with her. His lie is uncovered by Barton, who happens to be a real Army captain, and he is jailed in the base guardhouse, where he tap-dances his time away. Captain Barton is given a transfer to Panama, so he asks Sheila to marry and accompany him, but she plans to turn him down in favor of Robert. Meanwhile, Martin arranges to put on a show at the base starring Robert and Sheila. However, he secretly wishes to trick Sheila into quitting the show so that his new mistress, Sonya (Osa Massen), can be the star. Unbeknownst to Robert, Martin has had the inscription changed on the bracelet from "Sheila" to "Sonya," so that when Robert gives it back to Sheila in a proposal of marriage, she turns him down again.
The big show is that night. Can Robert convince Sheila that he loves her and not Sonya, or will Sheila head to Panama with Captain Barton? Will Mrs. Cortland find out about Sonya, and divorce her husband? Will Robert be sent back to the guardhouse for going AWOL? Will the show go on as planned? Will there be a happy ending?
If you've seen many musicals from this era, you already know the answers to these questions. There's no denying that the plot of this picture—even by Astaire standards—is contrived and pretty weak. Though the great Cole Porter wrote the score, it's not among his best work, either. The most recognizable song is the standard, "So Near and Yet So Far," sung by Astaire. Yet it's fun to hear the boogie-woogie and swing music of the period, which inspires Astaire to some great double-time tap routines. The best dance sequence is probably the first, when Hayworth matches Astaire step-for step in a difficult routine. The best set piece is the last number, which ends with the just-married pair dancing on top of a giant white Army tank. The comedy of this movie is very dated, and the supporting players are mostly dreary. The humorist Robert Benchley is wasted in his role as the womanizing theatrical impresario. Cliff Nazarro's double-talk routine gets old in a hurry. None of the other cast members makes much of an impression. Still, Astaire and Hayworth have good screen chemistry, and Rita's "gams" are shown off to good effect.
Some of you may be asking yourselves: So, is he an Astaire person or a Kelly person? Let me lay my cards on the table. Personally, I've always preferred Astaire's self-deprecating character (which changed little from one picture to the next), casual elegance, and apparently effortless dancing style to Gene Kelly's muscular egotism. I never found Kelly's screen persona very likable. There's no question in my mind that Kelly's best pictures (Singin' in the Rain and An American in Paris) hold up better than Astaire's (Swing Time and Top Hat), yet I don't think Kelly ever came close to the perfection of Astaire's best routines (especially the "Bojangles in Harlem" number from Swing Time). Likewise, although Kelly had the stronger voice, Astaire's peerless interpretation of songs by America's greatest composers is unparalleled in the history of cinema.
It is nice to see Columbia TriStar treat a relatively minor film such as this to a remastered high-definition transfer. The results look pretty good. The blacks are solid, though the whites can appear a bit dirty by comparison. There's moderate-to-heavy film grain, but the images remain sharp. The biggest nuisance is the edge enhancement—you'll notice more than a few halos and ringing of darker objects against light backgrounds. The audio is coded as 2.0 Dolby Digital, but appears to be the original mono soundtrack fed to both speakers (that is, there's no stereo separation). The big orchestral numbers demonstrate the limits of the dynamic range. There's some distortion in the louder passages, but I don't hear any significant hiss, pops, or crackles. For a 62-year-old film, it sounds excellent.
The film's original theatrical trailer is the only significant extra. Trailers are also included for two other Rita Hayworth films: Gilda, the picture for which she's best remembered, and The Lady from Shanghai, which she made with then-husband Orson Welles. The menu screens are static. A one-page insert lists the 28 chapter stops.
This is an average Astaire picture, featuring a good pairing with Rita Hayworth (they were teamed again the following year in You Were Never Lovelier). If you're a fan of the genre or an Astaire completist, it's nice to know that Columbia TriStar has does its job well.
This court is on record as acknowledging that lamb chops are indeed a tasty dish, but we would never refer to Rita Hayworth as "just another hunk of meat." Case dismissed. The syncopated tapping of my gavel should alert the bailiff that we're adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Original Theatrical Trailer
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