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Saturday, August 7, 2010

YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942)


Fred Astaire & Rita Hayworth followed up YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH/’41 with this considerably posher pic. Columbia Studio head Harry Cohn was famously tightfisted, but he opened the coffers to celebrate having his very own iconic sex symbol. The story remains boilerplate nonsense, but the script sticks to a concept and damned if it doesn’t start working. In Buenos Aires, family custom dictates that the eldest unwed daughter (Rita) marry before her kid sisters can tie the knot. But since Rita turns everyone down, her domineering dad (Adolph Menjou) tries to get her ‘in the mood’ by creating an imaginary beau. (A bit Freudian, no?) And Rita convinces herself that the phantom suitor is . . . Fred. Silly, but not without its charms, especially as Hayworth seems relaxed & empowered on screen as never before. Plus, she & Fred dance with an added level of sensual ease & humor; Xavier Cugat supplies that South American ‘Good Neighbor’ rhythm (and even scores as a graceful, unpushy comedian); Jerome Kern & Johnny Mercer deliver some underrated songs (and in ‘I’m Old Fashioned’ an immortal one*); the musical arrangements are lux, handled by the great Conrad Salinger in pre-M-G-M days; and to top it off, lenser Ted Tetzlaff guides Rita up from the merely gorgeous to Goddess. That title ain’t lying.

*This is the film clip Jerome Robbins used when he staged his Fred Astaire tribute ballet @ NYC-Ballet.

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