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You'll Never Get Rich

You'll Never Get Rich
Columbia Tristar
1941 / B&W/ 1:37 flat full frame / 88 min. / Street Date October 21, 2003 / 19.95
Starring Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, Robert Benchley, John Hubbard, Osa Massen, Frieda Inescort, Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams, Donald MacBride, Cliff Nazarro
Cinematography Philip Tannura
Art Direction Lionel Banks
Film Editor Otto Meyer
Original Music Cole Porter
Written by Michael Fessier and Ernest Pagano
Produced by Samuel Bischoff
Produced and Directed by Sidney Lanfield

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The reasons for the attraction to You'll Never Get Rich are obvious: seeing Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth dance together is pleasure enough to sit through anything. The rest of this Columbia show is recycled Buck Privates stuff and time-worn screwball comedy, neatly done but nothing to wave flags over. But when the stars start dancing to the Cole Porter tunes, the film takes wings.


Dancing star Robert Curtis (Fred Astaire) likes his showgirls but hasn't a special girlfriend until he warms up to looker Sheila Winthrop, a terrific dancer (Rita Hayworth). Trouble is, Robert's already ruined his chances by going along with a gag to rescue his philandering boss Martin Cortland (Robert Benchley) from his suspicious wife Julia (Frieda Inescort). Drafted, Robert is set up to stage a camp musical, starring, naturally, Sheila, but she's now engaged to a Captain, and Robert's perpetually in the guardhouse.

This excellent post-RKO show for Fred Astaire is a Columbia musical, of which there aren't many good ones. It perhaps didn't expand his musical horizons, but its success helped keep him relatively independent. You can bet that he was one star that never had to sign any long-term contracts with MGM. The charm of the show is Astaire's, well, charm. There never was a cornier musical number idea than the one in Grand Central Station, as Robert Curtis prepares to board a train to boot camp. Carloads of showgirls spontaneously arrive to sing and dance their favorite choreographer on his way. The number sounds horrible in print but it's a pleasure, probably because Astaire has the kind of screen spirit where we want his life to be like that.

In one of his tap numbers, Astaire twists his legs and spins between taps, affecting a style that reminds slightly of some of James Cagney's signature moves. Perhaps since Robert Curtis is supposed to be a New York boy, choreographer Robert Alton and Astaire worked out the local style.

Rita Hayworth is already in prime WW2 pinup form, hiking her bare shoulders and posing her chin in closeups that have the flavor of her best cheesecake still work. Her screen presence and line delivery is not to be improved upon; I always thought her just-slightly-husky voice was the sexiest in Hollywood. She taps well enough to keep up with Astaire but is one of his most elegant ballroom partners: no show-stopping fancy stuff, but class and elegance to burn. During those spins she tosses her hair in a way that tells us she's fully in control of her charms. Yes, it was a fantasy, but whatever happened to the mid-career Rita after 1946's Gilda is one of Hollywood's romantic tragedies.

The rest of the movie is split between harmless but less memorable comedy. Robert Benchley opens things nicely but becomes less interesting when he's required to stay a heel to make the silly plot function. John Hubbard is a dunce in a Captain's uniform playing the requisite loser, the one who 'almost' weds Rita. Osa Massen (Rocketship X-M) is conniving foreign competition for Rita who doesn't fool anybody. Big Guinn Williams and comic Cliff Nazarro are Fred's Army buddies; Nazarro is a very annoying vaudeville type with an act that consists completely of talking unintelligible nonsense. He plays a guy named 'Swivel Tongue'.

The big ending is the camp show, done of course with Astaire under house arrest and Rita almost ready to leave for marriage in Panama. They tap dance atop a giant porcelain tank, and then Astaire reveals that the fake wedding in the skit was real. Naturally, it turns out to be just what they both wanted, and the film ends in nonsensical bliss. But You'll Never Get Rich delivers us real movie stars that seem capable of holding the universe together with their talent and attractiveness; this show may be no MGM extravaganza, but it's just as entertaining.

Columbia TriStar's DVD is a better than adequate version of the 62-year old film. Most of the scenes are sharp and bright, with only some scratches in the main titles (laid out like Burma-Shave signs along the side of a road) scaring us at the very beginning. I noticed one shot in the middle that must have come from some inferior source, but the rest is fine. The Cole Porter tunes are okay, even though purported hits So Near and Yet So Far and Since I Kissed my Baby Goodbye didn't stick in this viewer's mind.

There are trailers for a couple of other Rita Hayworth films, and that's it.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, You'll Never Get Rich rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Very Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: trailers
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 12, 2003


Made in 1941, You'll Never Get Rich is playing down the street from Dumbo in the Steven Spielberg movie 1941. In that movie's original script, teen zoot-suiter-Chicano Wally also wants to be a great movie dancer, and is introduced tap-dancing behind the movie screen, matching Fred Astaire's tapping feet. I don't know whether the bit was dropped for simplification or whether Wally was too difficult to cast, if he had to dance like Fred Astaire too.

Email note from Richard Kampa, 10/18/03:

Hi, Glenn: YNGR originally ended with a brief reprise of the Wedding Cake March which immediately followed the final scene in the guardhouse. I've seen it with this ending both in a repertory cinema about 20 years ago and also on a 16mm print owned by a collector friend here in San Francisco.

Somewhere along the line, the Wedding Cake March reprise was removed and the film now ends when the two buck privates who are digging their tunnel break through into the guardhouse and come face to face with the officer, who views them rather sternly. I first saw it with the changed ending at a repertory house about a dozen years ago and when it came out on video, the print contained the new ending. When TCM has shown it, it likewise contains the revised ending. Now the DVD has the revised ending as well. It remains a mystery to me as to why the original ending was removed. Richard Kampa

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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