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The Acunas, a rich Argentine family, have the tradition that the daughters have to get married in order, oldest first. When sister #1 gets married, sisters #3 and #4 put pressure on Maria, sister #2, because they have their husbands picked out already. But Maria hasn't yet met a man she likes. Eduardo Acuna, believing that men aren't romantic enough these days, sends his daughter flowers and anonymous love letters, creating a "mystery man" for her to fall in love with. He intends to pick out an appropriate beau for her later, to fill the role. But Robert Davis, an American dancer looking for work, stumbles into the picture. Maria falls for him, but the father does not approve. Written by
John Oswalt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Rita Hayworth is supposed to have said that "men went to bed with Gilda and woke up next to me," and that was her problem with men. Never having had the opportunity to go to bed with Rita Hayworth, I can't say what would have happened to me, but I can tell you that Maria Acuña would have been more on my mind than Gilda. She and Fred virtually float whenever they dance together, and I think it takes nothing away from Ginger Rogers to say that. It wasn't until I saw this film that I realized what the big deal about Rita Hayworth was all about. Her character in this film, and the character's dancing, is not only gorgeous, but has an insouciance that no other partner of Fred's possessed. Just watching the "I'm Old Fashioned" dance routine, which has hardly any edits in it, and watching Rita and Fred kick the French doors shut is worth the price of admission.
Others have commented about the plot of this film--I don't think we need to go into it here other than to say it's a pretty typical boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy jumps through hoops, boy gets girl back plot. Only three members of the supporting cast really have much to do: Adolphe Menjou as the Maria's curmudgeon father moves the plot along and demonstrates why he was known as "the best-dressed man in Hollywood," even in a kilt, Xavier Cugat and His Orchestra provide a Latin beat, and Cugie gets to demonstrate his skill as a caricaturist. Gus Schilling, as Menjou's rather fey secretary, has to perform a number of tasks that were filled by as many as four actors in the Fred and Ginger films: the "Helen Broderick" comedienne role, the "Victor Moore" sidekick role, and whatever roles were assigned to Eric Blore and Eric Rhodes. I suppose when Schilling was cast Eric Blore was somewhere in the back of someone's mind at Columbia (although Franklin Pangborn also comes to mind). Schilling does a commendable job. The rest of the cast is competent but really doesn't do much to move the plot along. But this is a musical, and the job of all the characters who don't sing and dance, and even some who do, are there simply to move the plot along. The folks lining up at the box office were there to see Fred and Rita dance and to hear Fred and Nan Wynn (I wonder what Rita's singing sounded like) sing.
I just watched the recent DVD of this film, and it's a technical knockout. The print looks like it just came off the truck from Columbia for a first run, and the soundtrack is sharp. It also reveals that Rita Hayworth did NOT have great-looking legs like, say Marlene Dietrich or Lucille Ball. One thing that I did realize, though, is that this, like my favorite Fred-and-Ginger, "Swing Time," features songs by Jerome Kern--here with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, in "Swing Time" with lyrics by Dorothy Fields, and that in both films Fred plays a guy who doesn't really LIKE to dance: he sees his vocation as gambling, and only resorts to dancing to pay the bills when he's down on his luck.
This musical makes my "top ten" list of Hollywood musicals, which includes, by the way, any musicals made through 2006. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. "Swing Time" 2. "Show Boat" (with Allan Jones , Charles Winninger, and Irene Dunne, directed by James Whale: emphatically NOT the MGM bomb!) The title sequence to this film is one of the most original of all time. 3. "You Were Never Lovelier" 4. "Shall We Dance" (Fred & Ginger, not the delightful Japanese film) 5. "Oklahoma!" 6. "Top Hat" 7. "The Gay Divorcée" 8. "The Wizard of Oz" 9. "Guys and Dolls" 10. "The Gang's All Here" (Busby Berkeley's biggest production, featuring "The Lady in the tutti- Fruitti Hat") 11. "State Fair," the original "Iowa"version, please 12. "Love Me Tonight" (OK, so there are 12 in the top ten, but 11 is the only film that Rodgers and Hammerstein put together, and it has great songs. as well as Charles Winninger, and 12 has an interesting presentation from Rouben Mamoulian and a great score from Rodgers and Hart.)
Once again, these are listed in no particular order. It should be noted that only "The Wizard of Oz" comes from "the legendary Freed unit" at MGM. Perhaps someday IMDb will publish my yet-to-be-written "why MGM Musicals Suck" essay, but here's one point: All of the films listed above either were written AS movie musicals, or took a Broadway hit and used the power of film to render the book and songs more vividly. "Oklahoma!" is perhaps the best example of that, as opposed to the dismal MGM adaptation of Leonard Bernstein's wonderful "On The Town," which only proves, as do so many other MGM musicals, that Roger Edens may have been a good arranger but as a songwriter he left a lot to be desired--which didn't stop MGM from hacking almost all of the Bernstein-Comden-Green songs out of the movie. It doesn't explain why none of Busby Berkeley's best work came from MGM, but that's a story for another day.
Back to "You Were Never Lovelier:" Irving Berlin said that when he wrote songs he heard Fred Astaire singing them, which is something we should remember: Astaire was not only a great dancer, but a great song stylist who introduced a big chunk of the Great American Song Book. This is a wonderful film that does exactly what it's supposed to do: delight us and lift our spirits.
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