If you are a committed Fred Astaire fan and, with his movies, an Astaire completist, you'll want to have You'll Never Get Rich. It's the story of Robert Curtis (Astaire), a Broadway choreographer and dance star, who gets involved in the love-nest machinations of his married producer, Martin Cortland (Robert Benchley), and a chorus girl, Sheila Winthrop (Rita Hayworth). This results in Sheila and Robert mixing up each other's motives, Robert going into the Army and then spending the rest of the movie in boot camp. There's one romantic misunderstanding after another, visits from Sheila, two comic side kicks and an exasperated top sergeant. There also are six Cole Porter numbers and a romantic resolution that has Robert and Sheila tap dancing in wedding clothes on top of a white tank. The movie only takes 88 minutes and, I'm sorry to say, it seems twice as long.
What it has going for it, of course, are Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth. Astaire was an extraordinary dancer, a uniquely gifted singer and had a winning personality. Hayworth was a gorgeous creature and, as a dancer, was one of the best around. Based on talent, personality and just plain grace, she probably was Astaire's best partner
The screenplay of this 1941 army-themed romantic-comedy, however, is simply not very funny and not very romantic. The movie's comic relief is provided by two fellow recruits, played by a double-talking comic, Cliff "Swivel Tongue" Nazarro, who sounds like an incomprehensible Joe Pesci, and Guin "Big Boy" Williams. The two just don't bring much to the party. Nazarro's shtick gets tiresome quickly. Two genuinely funny actors follow along in their trail, Donald MacBride as the exasperated sergeant, and Robert Benchley as Cortland. Considering Cole Porter's phenomenal output of luscious melodies and clever lyrics, his work in this movie is just workmanlike. He was incomparable when writing sophisticated songs for clever people. Part of his genius was in making these songs so attractive to everyone else. But when he tried to write "soldier" songs, as he did in the early Forties, or "hip" songs, as he did in the Fifties, in an effort to stay contemporary, I think his instincts often failed him. In my view, of the six songs in this movie only one begins to reach what Porter was capable of.
With an Astaire movie that features Cole Porter songs, what do we have? --"Boogie Barcarolle." Here Astaire works briefly with Hayworth to show her some steps, then leads all the dancers in a rehearsal of a big number. It moves from fast tap to awkward ballet and back to tap. Astaire was one of the best tap dancers around, perhaps the best, and anything that has his feet moving fast is worth watching. --"Shooting the Works for Uncle Sam." Astaire is at Grand Central Station waiting for the train that will take him to boot camp. Suddenly, all the dancers arrive in taxis, throw off their coats, form up and start marching in this send-off number. Astaire leads them in the dance and sings the song. --"Since I Kissed My Baby Goodbye." Astaire is in the brig. A group of soldiers plays and sings this easygoing song of longing, then Astaire picks it up with a fast tap routine that, for me, doesn't quite match the tone of the song. --"A-stairable Rag." Astaire, still in the brig, does one of the fastest extended tap routines he ever filmed. --"So Near and Yet So Far." Astaire and Hayworth perform this lovely song of romance with a latin beat. Astaire sings it to Hayworth and off they go into an expert dance where the two are matched perfectly. It should have had a much better production background than it receives. --"The Wedding Cake Walk." This is the finale to the movie and to the show which Cortland has brought to boot camp and Robert, now out of the brig, and Sheila headline for the soldiers. The song isn't much to speak of, but it provides lots of opportunities for the dancers. It finishes in an endearingly awkward Hollywood idea of love and patriotism, with Robert and Sheila in their formal wedding attire tapping away on the movie designer's idea of a tank turret.
For an Astaire fan, any of his movies is worth having. I even have a VHS tape of him and Betty Hutton in Let's Dance. If in doubt about this one...go ahead and get it. And be sure to get the second and last movie Astaire and Hayworth co-starred in, You Were Never Lovelier. It's a gem.
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About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer (Charley2)
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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