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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"We only know the show must go on!"
DVD ReviewBefore Rita Hayworth became one of the 1940s' quintessential femme fatales in films like Gilda, the Brooklyn-born beauty looked to be on the verge of becoming the next big thing in movie musicals. After paying her dues in a series of mostly forgettable films, a pairing with the legendary Fred Astaire in Columbia Pictures' You'll Never Get Rich proved to be just the break she needed. In fact, it's reported that the debonair dance master more than once bestowed the honor of favorite partner upon her. Although she didn't have the fancy footwork of Eleanor Powell or the brashness of Ginger Rogers, Rita's passion for her art couldn't help but overflow from her face and the infectious enthusiasm she delivered in her far-too-few musical appearances makes her a joy to watch six decades onward.
Regarded by many as her best foray into song and dance, 1944's Cover Girl paired Hayworth with another fellow who knew a thing or two about hoofing: Gene Kelly. Predictable as the pre-determined outcome of a T-ball game but adorable in equal measure, Rita plays Rusty Parker, a dancer paying her dues as part of an ensemble of beauties who grace the stage at a Brooklyn club owned by her boyfriend/choreographer Danny McGuire (Kelly). Although life and love are good, Rusty has career aspirations a gazillion times the size of her current professional dwellings. So when word comes her way of a prominent magazine searching for their next cover girl, she decides to try her luck. But not far behind is fellow chorus-liner/resident backstabber Maurine Martin (Leslie Brooks), who mischievously throws Parker off by encouraging her to be animated and condescending, traits that the assistant to the editor Cornelia Jackson (Eve Arden) isn't looking for in the least.
Thinking she's blown a prime opportunity, Rusty returns to home base a little wiser, and a lot luckier. In the audience for her next performance is the publication's head honcho, John Courdair, who finds himself transfixed by Parker's beauty, which brings back memories of old flame Maribelle Hicks (also Hayworth), whom the gorgeous redhead bears a striking resemblance to. Combined with Courdair's clout and Jackson's favorable second impression, Rusty adorns the next issue of Vanity, but her enthusiasm is tempered by a rather tepid response until favorable coverage by local newspapers creates an overnight sensation.
Standing room only crowds bring a level of notoriety to Danny's establishment beyond expectations, but backstage distractions from starry-eyed autograph seekers, gossip columnists, and an offer from Broadway producer Noel Wheaton (Lee Bowman), fueled by Parker's newfound fame, prove to be professionally and romantically detrimental. After Wheaton gives his potential leading lady a tour of his exquisite theater, Rusty wrestles with the question of what's more important: a comfortable existence in a tried and true revue, or taking a chance on something new and exciting on the Great White Way?
At face value, Cover Girl appears to be nothing more than a MGM retread minus the punch of Busby Berkeley, and Arthur Freed's wallet. But the Hayworth/Kelly pairing proves charming and is helped enormously by terrific supporting performances, including Phil Silvers as Mcguire's piano-playing sidekick, Genius (yep, that's the name), who's equally adept with a quip; Leslie Brooks' conniving chorus girl; and the uproariously funny Eve Arden, who swipes every scene she's in (a trait displayed in virtually all her films, from Mildred Pierce to Grease). No musical succeeds without great tunes and show-stopping production numbers; in the former category, famed composers Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin combined forces to contribute an Oscar®-winning soundtrack loaded with likeable tunes (The Show Must Go On; Make Way For Tomorrow) and one bonafide classic/instant standard in the unforgettable Long Ago and Far Away (with Rita's vocals supplied by Martha Mears). Even if the musical numbers would have faltered, Cover Girl would still earn more than a cursory reference book mention, given its first-time teaming of uncredited choreographer Stanley Donen and Kelly, inaugurating a partnership that would give the genre some of its most shining moments in years to come. Although they lack the polish and sheen of their later collaborations, you can see glimmers of the greatness they would hone to perfection at MGM in the energetic staging of the production numbers including the aforementioned Tomorrow and Kelly's stunning solo take in Alto Ego, where he goes one better than his Anchors Aweigh teaming with Jerry the Mouse by dancing with himself (a routine that has to be seen to be believed).
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: Colors appear slightly faded here and there with scattered debris and dirt disappointingly noticeable at times. In the plus column, grain is practically a no-show (save for processed shots and occasional close-ups) and although the transfer may be a little on the soft side, it works.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: As is usually the case with soundtracks during this period, the high end tends to be on the tinny side with several of the numbers on the monophonic 2.0 encoded mix sounding slightly distorted (originating from the original elements). Still, those kinks are compensated by good yet not overpowering low bass.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bye Bye Birdie, Gilda, Pal Joey
Extras Review: Although budget line pricing probably wouldn't have allowed the expense, what a treat a Stanley Donen play-by-play recounting of his experiences on this film could have been. Instead, there are three trailers including plugs for two of Rita's best: Her go-round with Frank Sinatra in Pal Joey and the still smolderingly sexy Gilda.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsIn my best George Gershwin, we've got Hayworth, we've got Kelly, we've got great music, "who could ask for anything more?" Overcoming the flaws of an oft-tread storyline and inconsistent transfer, the charms of Cover Girl more than outweigh the negatives and is a worthy addition to any vintage movie musical library.
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