A smidgen of truth lurks behind this splashy Rita Hayworth WWII musical: there was a Windmill Theatre in London and it did manage to stay open during the ‘blitz;’ the rest is pure Hollywood. And that’s okay because the tasty package holds up surprisingly well, easily besting the better known Betty Grable competition over @ 20th/Fox. Mastered from a lip-smacking TechniColor print, Hayworth gets strong support from producer/director Victor Saville & from Rudolph Maté, who lensed most of Hayworth’s iconic pics. The opening two reels are particularly fluid, with angles, rhythm & a palette that’s more Powell/Pressburger than Harry Cohn/Columbia. Then the plot, such as it is, shows up in the form of Lee Bowman, an RAF pilot who can’t ‘land’ Rita until he’s sent into action. There’s a lot more chemistry in the secondary storyline with near-sighted dancer Marc Platt who settles for Janet Blair after being rejected by both the military board and by Rita. (Born Marcel Emil LePlat, he’s a Ballets Russe vet fresh off OKLAHOMA! on B’way where he doubled for ‘Curly’ in the Agnes de Mille dream ballet. And, man, can he dance!) No doubt, the film would be better known if the perfectly pleasant Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn score were stronger. But, with the exception of a dud comic specialty number, and a whacky green-trimmed horror that Blair wears on stage, this is a snazzy package that earns its teary wrap-up.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Jack Cole, the film’s unsung (and uncredited) choreographer, is usually remembered as a sort of proto-Bob Fosse. But he’s a Fosse with a lot more range (and steps!) and none of the self-loathing. Both of which make him, alas, the less interesting artist.
DOUBLE-BILL: Judi Dench & Bob Hoskins brought us something closer to the real Windmill Theatre Story in MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS/’05.