For the Siren's Retro-Fit column at Nomad Widescreen, a meditation on the very delightful 1944 Cover Girl, Charles Vidor's first major contribution to the eternal Rita Hayworth mystique (the second being Gilda). Billy Wilder claimed his first idea for a directing project was to make a big, candy-colored Hollywood musical, but when he saw this, he figured he'd been right to go with Double Indemnity: "I knew that no matter how good my musical might be, people would say it's no Cover Girl."
So, how are the numbers? The music is by Jerome Kern, the lyrics are by Ira Gershwin, the choreography is by Gene Kelly, and the numbers are swell. There's the title song, the climax of the show, a delirious memory lane of mostly long-gone print dinosaurs arrayed on a stage with a ramp big enough to make Busby Berkeley bite his wrist in envy: The American Home, Liberty, Mademoiselle, Collier's. Each magazine has its own visual theme and chorus girl, the music turning into a nursery jingle when one small girl appears on the cover of Look. (That was a bit creepy, to be honest, but never mind.) At the end, Hayworth appears at the top of the ramp, wearing a heavily sequined dressing gown because… well, because we get to see her take it off. And then, there she is, in the most beautiful costume in the movie, a flowing gold lame strapless that flies around her as she dances down the ramp toward a bunch of chorus boys that the camera never even tries to seek out because who cares? Rita Hayworth is dancing!
I imagine that this is the point at which Billy Wilder said, "Forget it. I can't compete."
Even better, though, is an earlier number called "Make Way for Tomorrow," which starts at an oyster bar where Hayworth, Kelly and Silvers romp in, wave their hands over the oysters and chant, "Come on, pearl!" (I dearly want to try this myself at multiple oyster bars before I die, just to see if a single waiter gets the reference.) And then, oh magic, they dance out onto Columbia's idea of the Brooklyn docks and use trash cans as cymbals and mock-row with oars and lock arms for a kick-step, until they encounter one of those cops who always turns up whenever you're in a musical, minding your own business with the orchestra in the background, just trying to dance your troubles away. They get away from the cop and continue into the Brooklyn streets where they gallop up and down stairs, interrupt a canoodling couple, do a time-step with the milkman — how much poorer movies are now that no one ever encounters a milkman.
It's interesting to note, with regard to our other topic of the week, James Agee, that the critic quite liked Cover Girl, particularly for Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth "at her prettiest," although his dislike of lush Hollywood orchestrations was such that he even complained about too much music in his musicals.
Further to Hayworth, the Siren has linked to this before; but this post from Raymond de Felitta's archives, at Movies 'Til Dawn, remains one of the most poignant things you'll ever read about her. Also, Raymond pointed out (and the Siren neglected to mention) that Vidor didn't direct the musical numbers; that was somebody else you may be familiar with.