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DVD SAVANT

Down to Earth


Down to Earth
Columbia TriStar
1947 / Color / 1:37 flat full frame / 101 min. / Street Date May 11, 2004 / 14.95
Starring Rita Hayworth, Larry Parks, Marc Platt, Roland Culver, James Gleason, Edward Everett Horton, Adele Jergens, George Macready, William Frawley
Cinematography Rudolph Maté
Art Direction Stephen Goosson, Rudolph Sternad
Film Editor Viola Lawrence
Original Music George Duning, Doris Fisher, Allan Roberts, Heinz Roemheld
Written by Edwin Blum, Don Hartman from the play Heaven Can Wait by Harry Segall
Produced by Don Hartman
Directed by Alexander Hall

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

This semi-sequel to the hit film blanc Here Comes Mr. Jordan does an excellent job of maintaining consistency with the earlier film while providing Ms. Hayworth with a worthy musical vehicle. Some of the music is peppy and Rudolph Maté's Technicolor camerawork is an improvement over Rita's previous Cover Girl. Director Alexander Hall (My Sister Eileen) returns from Jordan as well, accompanied by a couple of key members from the original cast.

Synopsis:

Manhattan stage director and star Danny Miller (Larry Parks) is putting on a show about the 9 mythological Muses, presenting them as flirtatious troublemakers. Up in heaven, the real Terpsichore (Rita Hayworth) begs celestial executive Mr. Jordan (Roland Culver) for permission to go down and protect her image. Jordan orders Messenger 7013 (Edward Everett Horton) to help her, not for the pride of the pantheon, but to help Danny - he's up to his ears in dept to gambler Joe Manion (George Macready) and the only way he can survive is to put on a hit play.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan is no longer a particularly well-known title but in the 40s it was considered one of Hollywood's most endearing fantasies. A boxer (Robert Montgomery) dies before his time, and heavenly timekeepers Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains) and his messenger (Edward Everett Horton) resurrect him in the 'borrowed' human body of a murdered millionaire to give him a rightful second chance. It came from a book called Heaven Can Wait, and in the late 70s was remade under that original title by Warren Beatty.

Down to Earth scrambles its fantasies somewhat but succeeds in most of its aims. Roman gods coexist in heaven with Mr. Jordan's airline-like bureaucracy - interestingly, no mention is made of Christianity. The story starts with Here Comes Mr. Jordan's beloved Max Corkle (James Gleason of Night of the Hunter) trying to explain to the cops another impossible story of invisible angels and impossible phenomena. Horton also reprises his role as the obstinate and fussy messenger, but Rains is replaced by Roland Culver, an Englishman best remembered as the affable host of the country ghost party in the classic Dead of Night. This one of the few instances of a substitute filling the role of an star unavailable for a sequel. 1

The flat tire in the works is Larry Parks, the actor famous for playing Al Jolson and for being run out of Hollywood as an admitted communist during the HUAC witch hunts. Parks isn't charismatic as a leading man, leaving Rita Hayworth to do all the work.

And Rita is something to behold, filling out the twisted role of a high-toned goddess in high style. Her dancing is still terrific, and although she could hold the screen with her beauty alone, she carries the comedy with ease.

Down to Earth has a screwy plot that forgets to make much sense, but doesn't really need to. Terpsichore wants to defend her dignity, and Mr. Jordan wants to save the talented Danny Miller from a gangland rubout, so the world won't be deprived of Miller's shows. Why Jordan would interfere in such a petty matter is an open question.

Danny's play about the 9 Muses is an interesting precursor to The Band Wagon. It starts with the underappreciated Adele Jergens doing great work with a spicy song, the one that made Terpsichore so mad. Adele plays it garish and vulgar in the best sense (today it would be triple-G rated) but gets booted when Rita crashes the rehearsals and grabs Larry's attention. Terpsichore then slowly converts the Larry's show into high art - a serious ballet that wows the snooty crowd but empties the theater. Finally, when she's told that Larry's life is in danger, Terpsichore reverses her entire character, and plays herself identically to Adele Jergens' interpretation - as a naughty teaser. Unless we're to believe that Adele would have somehow ruined Larry's show, the obvious way for Mr. Jordan to insure that it would be a hit would be to keep the meddling Terpsichore away from it.

The farce mostly works because the dancing is good and the songs alternate between jive-clever nonsense and pretty pretty melodies. Nobody sings for themself here - here's the rundown on the dubbing:

Larry Parks = Hal Derwin
Rita Hayworth = Anita Ellis
Adele Jergens = Kay Starr

Jack Cole (Designing Woman) provides some great choreography. Both Adele and Rita swing nicely in the jargon-filled main number. The supposedly boring "high culture" dance is actually very good, and not the pretentious embarrassment seen in The Band Wagon. A number about Terpsichore having multiple husbands, and another set in a children's playground aren't as inspired, but, hey, this is Columbia, not Arthur Freed-land.

George Macready's gangster provides an associative link to Rita's best picture Gilda. Marc Platt is Larry Parks' doubting partner. Terpsichore comes between the harmonious partnership of these two singer-dancer-showmen, and Savant can't help think that gays might interpret Down to Earth as being about a beautiful friendship ruined by the intrusion of an unwelcome female (Or maybe this says more about me than the movie, who knows).

The sentimental ending is affecting in a way almost unrelated to the rest of the movie. Sweet old James Gleason is left alone again, wondering what happened to his heavenly playmates. Hopefully he gets to keep the $18,000, but that's another story. Larry Parks loses his lover but not his muse, but due to the lack of real chemistry between him and Rita, we're not all that concerned. Then Rita seems so happy to be reunited with Larry in the afterlife that the uplifting music and beautiful color photography create a real tear-jerking moment. We're a little confused why a Greek Goddess from 3,000 years ago is ending up in a heaven-bound plane with a mortal, but by then it's a done deal. Down to Earth gets a B+. It's not quite a classic musical, but it's certainly entertaining, and Rita Hayworth fans will think it's terrific.

Featured chorine Jean Willes later showed up as a nurse in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and as Rosie the prostitute in the Western Bite the Bullet.


Columbia TriStar's DVD of Down to Earth looks sensational. A very good Eastman composite must have been made from the original Technicolor separations, because for 99.9% of the time, the picture looks flawless. Rudolph Maté's delicate colors shimmer (lots of purples and greens), and almost every shot of Hayworth is a thing of beauty. One backlit two-shot of her and Roland Culver at the sentimental conclusion is so beautiful, it cues an emotional reaction of its own.

The one caveat is the same weird flaw noted by Savant in his review of Star! The bright lights create big reflections from Rita's bright-white teeth. I believe that the video edge enhancement that makes the rest of the image look so clean is responsible for creating weird effects with teeth. Strange grey bands form where we know they can't be, and sometimes a tooth (the brightest, I'll bet) seems to disappear, leaving Rita looking momentarily snaggle-toothed. It's a weird phenomenon, the kind of thing you might not notice until it's pointed out.

There are no specific extras, just some trailers for other Rita Hayworth films in the Columbia collection - Gilda, You'll Never Get Rich, etc.. The unrepresented titles still unreleased on DVD are real bottom-of-the-baggers, but not without some merit: Affair in Trinidad, They Came from Cordura (snooooze), The Loves of Carmen, Salome, and Miss Sadie Thompson.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Down to Earth rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailers
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 26, 2004


Footnote:

1. Oddly, Rains reprised his Jordan supernatural being role in reverse, as the Devil in Angel On My Shoulder. The movie plays like an inverted carbon copy of the original Here Comes Mr. Jordan.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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