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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
You Were Never Lovelier (1942)

Robert: Imagine a man like me having to dance for a living.
Maria: I can't imagine a happier way to earn one.

- Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: May 26, 2004

Stars: Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, Adolphe Menjou
Other Stars: Xavier Cugat and His Orchestra
Director: William A. Seiter

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:37m:12s
Release Date: May 25, 2004
UPC: 043396037038
Genre: musical


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- C+A-B D-

DVD Review

In the realm of motion picture dance, Ginger Rogers will be forever regarded as Fred Astaire's soul mate. But in Hollywood, such relationships rarely last, and the dissolution of the Astaire-Rogers "marriage" in 1939 allowed Astaire the freedom to pursue cinematic flings with a succession of lovely partners, often rejuvenating his image and his art. In the post-Rogers era, one of his most successful and exciting screen liaisons was with the ravishing Rita Hayworth. Young, fresh, and seemingly unaware of her devastating beauty, Hayworth put a newfound spring in Astaire's step, and although their blissful union produced only two films, their magic endures.

The duo first appeared in the flag-waving You'll Never Get Rich (1941), and the mediocre musical so wowed the public that Columbia quickly rushed a second (and much better) film, You Were Never Lovelier, into production. Now a proven commodity, Fred and Rita finally received the royal treatment they always deserved, and studio chief (and legendary tightwad) Harry Cohn spared little expense on the Latin-flavored confection. Ritzy production values, a clever script, and a first-class score by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer distinguish William A. Seiter's film, which might only rate a footnote in the annals of great Hollywood musicals, but still effortlessly entertains today.

You Were Never Lovelier describes Hayworth to a T. Although she would achieve international renown as the sensual Gilda four years later, Hayworth exhibits a wholesome purity in this film that's irresistible. Exquisitely photographed by Ted Tetzlaff (Notorious) and draped in stunning gowns by Irene, the actress portrays Maria Acuna, second eldest daughter of Argentine hotelier Eduardo Acuna (Adolphe Menjou). Papa Acuna rigidly adheres to an old family tradition that requires women to marry in order of birth, and Maria's refusal to compromise her storybook romantic notions keeps her maddeningly single—much to the chagrin of her already affianced younger siblings. Eduardo believes if he writes Maria anonymous love notes and sends a steady stream of orchids to her door, he'll pique her interest and arouse her senses. And when she's finally fallen hook, line, and sinker for this "secret admirer," he'll engage an eligible bachelor to assume the role.

Enter Robert Davis (Astaire), an American nightclub dancer vacationing in Buenos Aires who loses his last dime at the racetrack. Desperate to make some money, he pesters Eduardo for a job in his hotel ballroom, but is continually rebuffed—until, of course, Maria mistakes Robert for her mystery man. A cavalcade of complications ensue, but Robert eventually succeeds in melting both the frosty Maria and her icy father.

The romantic storyline maintains interest, but it's tough not to get itchy anticipating Fred and Rita's first dance. Literally half the film transpires before the pair takes to the floor, but the number that showcases their peerless grace and style is well worth the wait. Most viewers probably don't realize Kern's sweet, lilting standard I'm Old Fashioned was written expressly for You Were Never Lovelier, and even though Rita's vocals are dubbed by Nan Wynn, Hayworth still puts over the song with simplicity and warmth. What makes the tune truly memorable, however, is the fancy footwork and marvelous synchronicity of Astaire and Hayworth, who give the cliché "dancing on air" new meaning. In a vastly different vein, the energetic, electrifying Shorty George offers the pair a chance to boogie down to the Latin percussion of Xavier Cugat's Orchestra, leaving viewers in a state of breathless admiration.

Astaire and Hayworth enjoy a marvelous rapport in their romantic scenes as well, with his affability nicely complimenting her shyness. (Of course, once they begin swaying to the music, their 20-year age difference literally melts away, and they're transformed into a Hollywood dream couple.) The frothy script allows their personalities to shine, and although the story occasionally stalls, Fred and Rita's palpable magnetism smoothes over any rough patches. Solid work from a veteran supporting cast also enlivens the film, with Menjou especially engaging as the cantankerous patriarch.

Fred and Rita never go out of style, and You Were Never Lovelier retains its innocent charm six decades after its initial release. Although Columbia musicals can never rival those made by MGM, this slick, sophisticated effort stands as one of the studio's finer efforts and appropriately honors its beloved stars.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: You Were Never Lovelier far outclasses You'll Never Get Rich, the initial Astaire-Hayworth pairing, and so does the DVD. Columbia gets it right this time, treating this musical gem with appropriate care, and the full-frame transfer—remastered in high definition—is as warm and lush as the movie itself. The source material exhibits only a few minor flaws, and the light grain maintains the film-like feel. The transfer sports rich blacks, wide gray levels, and good contrast, and shadow detail is quite good. Hayworth's heavily patterned and sequined gowns possess wonderful clarity and resist shimmering, while the crystal clear close-ups belie the film's advanced age. I've been critical of Columbia's past treatment of its classics catalog, but this is a first-class effort in every respect.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The original mono audio has been nicely cleaned up, with few surface defects cluttering the track. The orchestrations (by the incomparable Conrad Salinger) retain their lush tones, and the vocals enjoy a lovely fullness. Dialogue is always clear and comprehendible.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Japanese with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring A Man for All Seasons, Gilda, The Lady from Shanghai
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Now here's an area where Columbia still needs to improve. Take a leaf from Warner and Fox, and give classic movie fans what they crave—a great transfer and some decent extras. A featurette, audio commentary, production stills, complimentary short subjects, or any number of other goodies would greatly enhance the disc and surely boost sales. Food for thought…

On this particular release, a few trailers for other Columbia classics are the only extras offered.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

With its graceful dancing, lilting score, and fluid performances, You Were Never Lovelier is an ethereal delight. Columbia's top-notch transfer enhances this musical's allure and makes it a must-own for classic movie fans. Recommended.

 


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