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Cover Girl

Cover Girl
Columbia TriStar
1944 / Color / 1:37 flat full frame / 107 min. / Street Date August 19, 2003 / 24.95
Starring Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly, Lee Bowman, Phil Silvers, Jinx Falkenburg, Leslie Brooks, Eve Arden, Otto Kruger
Cinematography Allen M. Davey, Rudolph Maté
Art Direction Lionel Banks, Cary Odell
Film Editor Viola Lawrence
Original Music Saul Chaplin, Jerome Kern
Written by Erwin S. Gelsey , Marion Parsonnet, Paul Gangelin and Virginia Van Upp
Produced by
Arthur Schwartz
Directed by Charles Vidor

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, Alter Ego.

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:
Movie: Good
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: none (trailers)
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 21, 2003

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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