During a party scene, Al Marsh (Red Skelton) does an "Irish tenor" skit, intermingling comedy and song. As the audience laughs, he comments "Well, you knew I wasn't Howard Keel when I came out here." Howard Keel, of course, co-starred in the movie as "Tony Naylor."
Unlike MGM's 1951 remake of "Show Boat", the plot of the original Broadway show "Roberta", on which the movie "Lovely to Look At" is based, was almost entirely changed for the 1952 film, except for the situation of somebody inheriting a dress shop. But the two songs written for the 1935 film version of "Roberta" were retained for this film. Several of the songs from the show which were omitted from the 1935 film were brought back for Howard Keel to sing.
Howard Keel's character was named "Tony Naylor". During the 1950s and 60s, one of the most popular hang-outs for the stars in to meet after the filming was called "Tiny Naylors". It was located in Hollywood at the corner of Sunset Blvd and Vine Streets. Keel's characters' name was a nod to that famous coffee shop.
The lavish fashion-show sequence, directed by the uncredited Vincente Minnelli, showcased the gowns of Adrian, the influential designer associated with MGM's golden age of Garbo, Shearer, Harlow and Crawford. Adrian's work on the entire feature concluded his 28-year film career.
When MGM decided to produce a Technicolor remake of Roberta (1935), the studio purchased the prints and negatives of RKO's film version of the stage play, and ceased further distribution of it so as not to compete with the remake's box office potential. The earlier film remained out of sight for decades, not resurfacing until the mid-1970s, after the 1952 remake had run its course in theaters and on television. At this point, the film was in the MGM library, as opposed to RKO, and was reissued in response to the nostalgia boom that arose in the wake of That's Entertainment! (1974), as Roberta (1935) was the only Astaire and Rogers film unavailable to be screened in revival houses.
While MGM musicals had traditionally been guaranteed box office bonanzas, Lovely to Look At (1952) was one of several starry, big-budget productions that failed commercially in the early-to-mid 1950s, as a result of audiences lured into staying home by their television sets. The film's failure resulted in a loss of $735,000 ($7M in 2018), according to studio records. Other MGM musicals that would follow suit: Brigadoon (1954), Rose Marie (1954), The Student Prince (1954), Hit the Deck (1955), It's Always Fair Weather (1955), Jupiter's Darling (1955) and Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956).
The musical's best-known song, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," is utilized much as it had been in the film's predecessor, Roberta (1935). In both films, the song is heard as a stand-alone performance by the leading lady (Irene Dunne in the earlier film, Kathryn Grayson in the latter), and is reprised for the dance duet of the secondary leads (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the earlier film, Marge and Gower Champion in the latter). Oddly, in the remake, the Champions' duet appears first, minus any vocal -- likely due to the fact that the song was already so well known -- while Grayson's vocal doesn't occur until the final third of the film.