You’ll Never Get Rich is a curious musical. Despite the wealth of talent attached to the production – Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, Sidney Lanfield, Cole Porter and Robert Alton to name just a few – it feels flat and mundane. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with the lead performances, and both Astaire and Hayworth dance beautifully and have an easy, natural chemistry, it never adds up to more. To begin with, Porter’s score – apparently road tested on ‘ordinary’ moviegoers to gauge their popularity – doesn’t live up to his earlier gems, although Since I Kissed My Baby Goodbye was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song. Something about the production feels ‘off’ too. Shot in black and white (apparently Technicolor was too expensive in wartime) the army scenes feel dated. Released in 1941, two months before Pearl Harbour, the film was one if the first Hollywood productions to be set in WWII, but there’s something very WWI in the light-hearted gags and the camp design. Not exactly a deal breaker, but the combined factors create a lack of authenticity that even Astaire and Hayworth can’t overcome. Perhaps the film is remarkable because it’s Hayworth’s breakout role. The actress was understandably nervous about dancing with Fred, whose billing was inextricably linked with Ginger Rogers, but he apparently went to great lengths to calm her nervous with on-set pranks and was complimentary about her talents, saying she danced with ‘trained perfection and individuality’ and ‘she learned steps faster than anyone I’ve ever known’. Unsurprising, considering Hayworth had been dancing professionally since she was 13. Hayworth was equally complimentary. The duo also starred together in the 1942, Seiter-directed You Were Never Lovelier and in later interviews, she recalled her films with Astaire fondly: ‘I guess the only jewels in my life were the pictures I made with Fred Astaire. You know, in his book, Fred said I was his best partner. I can tell you one thing – they’re the only pictures of mine I can watch today without laughing hysterically…’ Clearly the appreciation was mutual, and it’s disappointing they only made two films together; reportedly Astaire didn’t want to get tied into another partnership and actress associations. You’ll Never Get Rich is, however, a departure from ‘typical’ Astaire, and it’s refreshing to see him in a role that required something more than a top hat and tails. Where Rogers had been elegant and poised, Hayworth was vivacious, joyful and lively, more than a match for Astaire (to quote the NYT, ‘she’s something to trouble a night’s sleep’). Indeed, where Astaire’s personality often overshadowed Rogers’, Hayworth was more challenging. She picked Fred (or his character Robert Curtis) because she could, not because he was the only option available to her. Although on the surface Sheila Winthrop (Hayworth) is a gorgeous showgirl who’s looking to get ahead, she also has morals, refusing theatre producer Martin Cortland’s (Robert Benchley) diamond bracelet, clearly a gift to secure her affections. In fact, Shelia is usually one step ahead of Curtis and Cortland, able to read double-crossed situations before either is aware of the truth. In fact, You’ll Never Get Rich was integral to the creation of Hayworth’s on-screen persona, pitching her as a sultry goddess who wasn’t prepared just to be a love interest and had a mind and opinions of her own. It was these qualities that led to her status as one of the most popular WWII pin-ups, a legend that lives on today on Andy Dufresne’s wall in The Shawshank Redemption and that Gilda clip. It’s not surprising that Hayworth regarded the films she shot with Astaire so highly; there’s something uniquely ‘Rita’ about them (although perhaps only the Americanised Rita studio bosses saw fit to create) and they remain a wonderful tribute to one of the silver screen’s most glamorous actresses.
This post is part of the “getTV Rita Hayworth Blogathon” hosted by Classic Movie Hub and running during the entire month of October. Please visit getTVschedule to see a full list of Rita Hayworth films airing on the channel this month, and please be sure to visit Classic Movie Hub for a full list of other Blogathon entries.