Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
With the exception of work done by Frank Capra and a few others, Columbia wasn't noted for many top
pictures in any field, and especially not musicals. So it's interesting that the 'mature' MGM
musical would be born not in Culver City, but up at Gower Gulch under the vulgar thumb of Harry
Cohn. Farmed out to The Torch Lady to co-star with Cohn's top-draw sex bomb Rita Hayworth, Gene
Kelly took Stanley Donen along with him, and made Cover Girl a so-so musical with a
standout experimental number.
Redhead showgirl Rusty Parker (Rita Hayworth) auditions for a big part in a
Manhattan revue, but even though she is sabotaged by jealous competitors, gets it. Auditioner
Cornelia 'Stonewall' Jackson (Eve Arden) is perplexed until she finds out why: owner John Coudair (Otto
Kruger) sees in Rusty the vision of a showgirl he had to give up 40 years before. Rusty grabs
at the opportunity, but it breaks up her unofficial partnership with Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly)
at his humble Brooklyn club. Various rivalries and bitterness set in, despite the efforts of
funnyman 'Genius' (Phil Silvers) to keep the trio together. Genius and Danny fold the club
to go entertain troops. Will Rusty and Danny get together again?
On paper, Cover Girl must have looked like an MGM knockoff, and judging by the long string
of writers, might have been a remake of an earlier script. With moderately good direction from
Charles Vidor, and solid casting, it's an entertaining enough vehicle for woo-bait pinup girl
Hayworth, then the most popular star with the country's fighting forces. Eve Arden and dependable
Phil Silvers make good comic support for the two romantic leads, who spend much of the film with
unhappy looks on their faces.
Hayworth is well-served by the script, which centers around her almost exclusively. Technically,
she plays a double roll as her own grandmother in flashbacks that explain why Otto Kruger is
infatuated with her against the advice of his own specialists. The story is predictable to a fault.
Girl gets opportunity, boy gets jealous, they break up, girl almost marries rich jerk, but not
quite. In between, there are some good songs, including the killer standard Long Ago and Far
Away, which luckily didn't get tapped for the Star Wars franchise. And in blank imitation
of MGM, there are montages and cattle calls that exploit the opportunity to fill the screen with
glamorous views of a dozen of the year's top models.
As explained in Robert Trachtenberg's thoughtful docu
Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer,
Gene Kelly was quickly disillusioned with his Selznick contract and subsequent servitude at MGM.
He had ideas and ambitions, and instead was shoved into ordinary roles and bartered off to other
studios as a hand-holder for top stars like Deanna Durbin. He rather subversively smuggled his
partner in progessive musical thinking, Stanley Donen, into Cover Girl. Together with
what must have been an ambitious Columbia crew, they created a special number around his solo song,
The rest of the musical numbers in Cover Girl are fairly straightforward, and the most
elaborate of them was a flashy but unimaginative Ziegfeld-like piece where Hayworth's contribution
was to gazelle down a 50 foot tower, trailing veils in her wake. Alter Ego is just Gene
walking along the street, conflicted about his love life. In a technical effort that matches any of the
clever musical tricks being done at MGM, Kelly dances with a phantom version of himself, a
reflection that leaps from a store window. To put two Kellys side-by-side, the giant Technicolor
camera pans and dips and moves in almost complete precision for two separate passes for each
shot. The camera operator twirling his controls had to perform to the playback as if the
gear-driven whorl head were a musical instrument. When superimposed over the first take, the
phantom Gene stays
in almost perfect alignment with Gene #1, and the result is the kind of triumph that's much easier
to appreciate than modern CGI effects. Today, a top compositor could duplicate Gene and double him up
digitally with little fuss - but where's the craft in that?
MGM did catch-up with Columbia when Gene returned, by having him dance with an animated Jerry Mouse
in Anchors Aweigh, a film with an even less-inspired script than Cover Girl. But a couple of
successful years later, Kelly, Donen and the entire Freed unit were happily pushing the musical
in many different stylistic and technically-challenging directions.
There isn't a heck of a lot of chemistry between the leads, and the story just kind of ambles
to a finish, so Cover Girl's good reputation is clearly built on Hayworth's glamour and Kelly's
(and Donen's) vision. Hayworth hasn't quite reached the career peak she'd find
in Gilda (with Vidor
once again in command), but she certainly turns heads in Technicolor.
Columbia TriStar's DVD of Cover Girl looks fine, with a carefully restored picture in
basically good shape, and retaining its Technicolor gloss. Some scenes show signs of color fluctuation,
indicating very minor density problems with elements, probably when an Eastman IP was made long ago.
But it's nothing distracting, and most of the time, the picture pops.
The sound is as clear as a bell. Our wider-range audio reproduction makes it obvious that Rita's
Long Ago and Far Away vocal is dubbed by another singer, Nan Wynn (thank you, Matt Hough).
The only extras are trailers for Gilda, Bye Bye Birdie and Pal Joey.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Cover Girl rates:
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: none (trailers)
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 21, 2003
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson