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Star of the Month: Rita Hayworth
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You'll Never Get Rich

In You'll Never Get Rich (1941), Fred Astaire is a New York musical theater choreographer with a complicated mission. When the theater's producer Martin Cortland (Robert Benchley) is caught by his wife trying to give a gorgeous showgirl Sheila Winthrop (Rita Hayworth) a diamond bracelet, Robert Curtis (Astaire) is enlisted to save his neck.

Robert pretends to be Sheila's fiancee and the true bracelet-giver. In the process of playing out that ruse, the two fall in love. Desperate to escape the increasingly complicated deception, beanpole Robert runs off to join the Army, using a brick in his hat to allow him to meet the Army's minimum weight requirements. Released just two months before Pearl Harbor, You'll Never Get Rich was one of the first Hollywood films to have a WWII setting.

Director Sidney Lanfield combines famed lyricist Cole Porter's songs (including the Oscar-nominated "Since I Kissed My Baby Goodbye") and numerous humorous situations devised to keep lovers Astaire and Hayworth apart. The misunderstandings and comic episodes continue at the Army base where Sheila's real fiancee just happens to be a captain and where trouble plagues Robert who is perpetually landing in the guardhouse. There, he dances and sings alongside fellow "inmates" the Delta Rhythm Boys and freeform jazz musician Chico Hamilton, who has also provided the music for films like Sweet Smell of Success (1957) and Repulsion (1965).

Hayworth and Astaire made one other musical together, You Were Never Lovelier (1942). Rich helped catapult Hayworth, who had previously appeared in mostly B-pictures and supporting roles, to stardom. While the film was still in production Hayworth was featured in a cover story in Life magazine wearing a lace and satin nightgown and a provocative pose. The magazine dubbed Hayworth the "Love Goddess," and that seductive image became one of the most popular and reprinted pin-ups in movie history.

Astaire's own screen image at the time Rich was made, was by this time inseparable from that of his longtime partner Ginger Rogers. But Astaire and Hayworth were still a well-matched pair, despite Hayworth's initial nervousness at keeping up with a dancer as esteemed as Astaire and following in the nimble footsteps of Rogers.

Astaire tried his best to distract Hayworth from her anxieties and lighten the mood on the set with pranks like dipping his fingers in ice water before their dance numbers. He was also greatly impressed with the dancing abilities of his new partner, who had in fact danced professionally for years. Hayworth's father was the noted dancer-choreographer Eduardo Cansino, an old friend of Astaire's from his vaudeville days. Astaire was highly complimentary of Hayworth's abilities saying, "she learned steps faster than anyone I've ever known. I'd show her a routine before lunch. She'd be back right after lunch and have it down to perfection." Columbia may have had less confidence in Hayworth's singing abilities, since her songs were dubbed by Nan Wynn, reportedly because Columbia boss Harry Cohn was unwilling to shell out the money for Hayworth's singing lessons. Cohn's peculiar vision marked the production in other ways too. Cohn wanted to insure that Porter's tunes would be well-received by a general moviegoing audience, and so had the songs first road-tested with "ordinary" folk like secretaries and office workers, much to Porter's chagrin.

Combining elements of the behind-the-scenes musical and the life-in-uniform military comedy, You'll Never Get Rich was a box-office success praised by Variety for "a happy combination of music, dancing and comedy that spells box office." Benchley, the noted Algonquin Roundtable humorist and New Yorker theater critic, provides ample amusement as the skirt-chasing married man with a seen-it-all wife.

Astaire has said he enjoyed the costume change You'll Never Get Rich provided and the chance to finally rid himself of his patented top hat and tails as a uniformed soldier. He was, however, disappointed that the film would not be in Technicolor, a process made prohibitively expensive in wartime.

Director: Sidney Lanfield
Producer: Samuel Bischoff
Screenplay: Michael Fessier, Ernest Pagano
Cinematography: Philip Tannura
Production Design: Lionel Banks, Rudolph Sternad
Music: Cole Porter
Cast: Fred Astaire (Robert Curtis), Rita Hayworth (Sheila Winthrop), John Hubbard (Tom Barton), Robert Benchley (Martin Cortland), Osa Massen (Sonya), Frieda Inescort (Mrs. Cortland).
BW-89m.

by Felicia Feaster

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