Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cover Girl (1944) - Gene Kelly Busts Loose

Cover Girl original 1944 film poster Cover Girl 1944
"Cover Girl" (1944).

"Cover Girl" (1944) has some classic scenes in it that really are a must-see. Top-flight dancers such as Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were not the world's greatest actors, but their dancing is why you go to see them. As usual in Kelly films, there is a wonderful trick dance in "Cover Girl" (1944), a Columbia Pictures presentation directed by Charles Vidor, that was years, years ahead of its time.

Gene Kelly Reflection dance Cover Girl 1944
Gene Kelly about to dance with his own reflection to the song "Alter Ego" in "Cover Girl."

This was Gene Kelly's breakthrough role, and that alone makes it memorable. He was given complete control for the first time, and he ran with it, choreographing his own songs, remodeling soundstages to fit his dances, the whole deal. Throw in top-notch dancer Rita Hayworth as his love interest and comedian Phil Silvers of all people as Danny's sidekick "Genius" and you have the ingredients for a real crowd pleasing musical, which is exactly how it turned out.

Gene Kelly closeup Cover Girl 1944
Gene does a lot of - what else? - brooding in "Cover Girl."

Kelly plays Danny McGuire, a nightclub owner in Brooklyn (Brooklyn is always the "wrong side of the tracks" in '40s films) whose star attraction and love interest is Rusty Parker (Rita). Rita is lovely as Rusty, and even plays a dual role as both Rusty and her grandmother. Rusty has a chance at the big time through the machinations of John Coudair (Otto Kruger), who romanced and lost Rusty's grandmother and wants to relive his youth by making Rusty a star. A younger associate of Coudair's wants Rusty, leaving Danny as the odd man out. Phil Silvers is around as Danny's sidekick.

Rita Hayworth showgirl costume Cover Girl  Cover Girl 1944
Scandalous! "Cover Girl" is full of chorus girls.

The plot revolves around Danny cutting Rusty loose, to the detriment of his own club, because she has a chance at success through Coudair that Danny can't give her. But, naturally, that's not what Rusty ultimately wants, because, as usual in films of that time, the right guy is the only thing on the girl's mind. Guess who the right guy for Rusty is? There are no surprises, but everybody does their thing well.

Rita Hayworth Gene Kelly Cover Girl 1944 Cover Girl 1944
Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth in vivid color in "Cover Girl."

Kelly does the first of his amazing trick dances, of which there were many in his career. This time, Kelly dances with himself as a reflection from a glass window. It is a show-stopping routine every bit as amazing as his bit with the umbrella a decade later, but nobody really seems to recall this dance, which is sad. Kelly was the master at that sort of unusual dance, and one still has to wonder how they timed everything so precisely so that he really does seem to be dancing with himself. The melodrama gets a bit thick, and there are some gratuitous war references thrown in that do little but provide the opportunity for a song or two. However, Kelly, after a slow start, ultimately takes this film to the next level. This was before Kelly became a megastar and perhaps too smooth for his own good. An underlying edge of rawness to Kelly's character lends it a believable and almost wistful air. In some ways, this is Gene Kelly's best role even though it is overshadowed in the popular memory by "An American in Paris" and some other later films.

Rita Hayworth showgirl costume Cover Girl Cover Girl 1944
Rita Hayworth and Leslie Brooks in "Cover Girl."

The music, of course, is fabulous. How could you go wrong with Ira Gerswhin and Jerome Kern? "The Show Must Go On" is a delight. They don't make then like this anymore, that kind of talent works on TV scores now. There also is a showstopper midway through sung by Rita, "Poor John," by Henry E. Peter and Fred W. Leigh. Overall, though, the songs are not quite enough to turn "Cover Girl" into a classic that receives much modern attention - which is a shame, but that's just how it goes with films sometimes.

Rita Hayworth, Phil Silvers and Gene Kelly dancing in Cover Girl
"Cover Girl" provides a breakthrough role for Phil Silvers, too, as Genius.

Kelly's character in the 1980 "Xanadu," whose plot very loosely resembles that of "Cover Girl" (with Kelly taking on the "Coudair" role) also was named Danny McGuire on Kelly's request. This film was the beginning, "Xanadu" the end, of a terrific run for a dancing genius. Clearly, this film meant a lot to Gene through the years, and he obviously wanted to honor it late in his career. "Cover Girl" is highly recommended.

Below is the original film trailer.


1 comment:

  1. Yes, Fred Astaire was never really an actor ( a legendary dancer and charming performer, yes) but Gene Kelly was a good actor, a really good actor and "Cover Girl" is exhibit A. Kelly is excellent as Danny McGuire and so much more modern than his co-stars. The following year, he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his stellar performance as Joe Brady in "Anchors Aweigh," a rare honor for a musical performance.