You Were Never Lovelier
Sunday April, 7 2019 at 02:00 PM
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Rarely has a film's title so perfectly described its leading lady as when Rita Hayworth put on her dancing shoes for You Were Never Lovelier (1942), the follow-up film to her first teaming with Fred Astaire, You'll Never Get Rich (1941). But where she had been an up-and-coming leading lady when they made their first film together, she was a full-fledged star by the time she danced with him a second time. And just as Margarita Cansino had been Hollywood-ized into Rita Hayworth, so the film was set in a Hollywood version of Buenos Aires, complete with bandleader Xavier Cugat and his band playing the Latin music of all-American composer Jerome Kern. In typical Hollywood fashion, all Latin countries were one. The film was originally titled Carnival in Rio before the setting was changed to Argentina, and the Argentine natives were played by a leading lady of Spanish descent and a Cuban bandleader. Cugat wasn't the most famous Cuban on screen either. The 15-year-old Fidel Castro appeared as an unbilled extra.
Astaire had performed with Hayworth's father, Latin dancer Eduardo Cansino. That family connection had helped him overcome his doubts about working with an actress almost as tall as he and 20 years his junior. From their first rehearsal for You'll Never Get Rich, he would dub her the first natural dancer he had worked with since his sister, Adele, had retired from their stage act. Years later, he would call Hayworth his favorite on-screen dancing partner.
When their first film together became a hit, Columbia Studios, which had released the film, quickly got to work developing another vehicle for the dancing stars. Latin subjects were in vogue at the time and Columbia, like other Hollywood studios, began marketing to South American moviegoers. Besides, European movie ticket sales had drastically dropped off ever since the start of World War II so Columbia decided to adapt an Argentinean film, The Gay Senorita. Astaire was cast as a dancer whose gambling losses strand him in Buenos Aires. When night club owner Adolphe Menjou's second daughter (Hayworth) refuses to marry, leaving her younger sisters with no chance of tying the knot until she gives in, Menjou starts sending the girl gifts from a secret admirer she mistakenly decides is Astaire. The situation created ample opportunities for dance numbers as Astaire performs with Cugat's orchestra in Menjou's club and first reluctantly, then amorously courts Hayworth.
The studio relied on Cugat to supply the Latin music, then assigned the rest of the score to Kern, a composer who had never been comfortable working in that style. Instead, he and lyricist Johnny Mercer supplied the classic "I'm Old Fashioned" as a perfect expression of Hayworth's character, the hit "Dearly Beloved" for Astaire's pose as her secret admirer and "The Shorty George" for an athletic rehearsal number. "Dearly Beloved" would reach the hit parade in recordings by Glenn Miller's orchestra and Dinah Shore. It even became a standard wedding piece for a while. A few years later, Mercer would paraphrase the lyrics, particularly "I know that I'll be yours come shower or shine," for an even bigger hit with music by Harold Arlen, "Come Rain or Come Shine." But then, the melody had already been recycled; Kern had borrowed it from a Puccini opera.
Space was at a premium on the lot during production, so Astaire found a room over a funeral parlor for dance rehearsals. Unlike many of his earlier partners, including Ginger Rogers, Hayworth was there for all the rehearsals while he was developing their routines. But every time a funeral procession went by the hall, they had to stop so the music and tapping feet wouldn't disrupt the proceedings. When that made the rehearsals too somber, Astaire distracted Hayworth with little jokes. They were using an ice bucket to cool soft drinks, and one time he dipped his hand in the ice before taking her in his arms for a romantic pas de deux.
Hayworth had scored solidly in several films the year before, including The Strawberry Blonde, with James Cagney, and Blood and Sand, with Tyrone Power. This helped make You Were Never Lovelier a major hit for the studio, and the film's success made her Columbia's top female star. The picture scored Oscar® nominations for its score, sound recording and the song "Dearly Beloved," though it lost in all three categories. Sadly it would mark Astaire's last teaming with Hayworth. Columbia kept her too busy for such elaborate musicals in the future, while his career carried him to MGM, where he would find new success dancing with such co-stars as Judy Garland, Vera-Ellen and Cyd Charisse.
Producer: Louis F. Edelman
Director: William A. Seiter
Screenplay: Michael Fessier, Ernest Pagano, Delmer Davies
Based on the Story and Screenplay The Gay Senorita by Carlos A. Olivari and Sixto Pondal Rios
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Art Direction: Lionel Banks, Rudolph Sternad
Music: Jerome Kern
Principal Cast: Fred Astaire (Robert Davis), Rita Hayworth (Maria Acuna), Adolphe Menjou (Eduardo Acuna), Leslie Brooks (Cecy Acuna), Adele Mara (Lita Acuna), Isobel Elsom (Mrs. Maria Castro), Xavier Cugat and His Orchestra (Themselves), Lina Romay (Herself).
by Frank Miller