Monday, May 22, 2017

Now Playing: "You Were Never Lovelier" (1942)

Embarrassing to say as a classic movie aficionado but You Were Never Lovelier is the first Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth film I've seen.  I know, I know.  I'm hanging my head in shame.  But thank you, TCM, for airing this little gem this past weekend so I could correct my oversight.

The plot line of You Were Never Lovelier is strictly 1940s formula, no question about it.  Adolphe Menjou plays Eduardo Acuna, a business owner in Buenos Aires with four daughters. The movie opens with his oldest daughter, Julia, getting married.  The two youngest daughters, Cecy and Lita, are distraught because both wish to marry their beaus but the Acuna family has a tradition that the daughters must marry in chronological order.  Meaning that older sister Maria must marry first.  Normally that wouldn't be an issue, given that Maria is played by the stunningly beautiful Rita Hayworth but Maria Acuna has no interest in romance or marriage, at least not at present.

Eduardo gets the bright idea to send his daughter orchids with romantic notes attached, from a secret admirer, hoping that it will jump start her desire to marry. Once that happens, he'll invite every eligible bachelor he knows to a party and surely Maria will fall for one, right?

The fly in the ointment (there has to be one) is Robert Davis, played by Fred Astaire.  Bob is an American looking to get a dancing gig at Eduardo's club.  He met Maria at Julia's reception and found her to be as cold as the inside of a refrigerator.  He inadvertently is tapped to deliver one of the many orchids to her and she mistakenly believes that Bob is her secret admirer and falls in love with him.   Eduardo is less than thrilled and even more panicked when Bob falls for Maria as well.  Wacky hijinks ensure (don't they always?) when a "goodbye" note Eduardo has penned under the guise of being Bob is discovered and it's assumed that Eduardo is having a love affair with the wife of his best friend, also named Maria (and Maria's godmother.)

Like I said, formula and by the book.  However, You Were Never Lovelier is delightful thanks to the pairing of Fred and Rita, who are utterly charming.  Their dance sequences are worth the price of admission alone.  The two are perfectly in sync and almost seem to be floating on air together, so smooth and seamless are their steps.  He is well known and acknowledged as a talented and well-trained danced but she is spectacular as well.  She is probably remembered by most as Gilda or the embodiment of a 1940s pin up goddess but she was an excellent dancer as well as being absolutely enchanting on screen.

Adolphe Menjou is always a pleasure to see and he injects just the right amount of firmness and humor into his role of Eduardo.  Barbara Brown, as Eduardo's wife Delfina, reminded me of Billie Burke - - the guileless and fluttering wife.  Her business, very much like Mrs. Bennet of Pride and Prejudice, is to get her daughters married; naturally, she's overjoyed at the match that makes her husband frantic.  Gus Schilling as Eduardo's assistant Fernando (and a relative) is a hoot, between sleeping at his desk and getting completely emotionally abused by the demanding Eduardo.  Xavier Cugat and his orchestra were shown to their benefit, with this film being the first in which Cugat, a well known bandleader in Cuba, would appear.  He would make special arrangements to show Astaire and Hayworth to their very best.  All melodies, including the title song, were composed by Jerome Kern who, sadly, would die only a few years after this film was released.

Clearly Hollywood in the 1940s had a fascination with Buenos Aires as You Were Never Lovelier is one of a handful of films that takes place in that city. Interestingly enough, everyone speaks English and no one really has a Spanish accent. Ah, Hollywood!

Just a bit of trivia for this fun film:  Fred and Rita practiced their dance sequences at a funeral parlor down the street from the studio, as per Fred's autobiography.  Fred's character says he is from Omaha, Nebraska, just like Astaire himself.  You Were Never Lovelier was reportedly Rita's favorite among her own films. And a teenage Fidel Castro is allegedly featured as an extra.

You Were Never Lovelier is widely available on DVD and does show up occasionally on TCM.

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