You'll Never Get Rich (1941) **
Directed by Sidney Lanfield. Written by Michael Fessier & Ernest Pagano. Producer, Samuel Bischoff.
Fred is a choreographer/dancer. His boss is producer/impresario Robert Benchley who is married to the beautiful and classy Frieda Inescort. Apparently, she is the bankroller of her husband's shows. Benchley is an inveterate woman-chaser. His latest would-be conquest is chorus-girl Hayworth, whom, for starters, Benchley tries to impress with a gift of a very expensive diamond bracelet. He buys it on his wedding anniversary, while, at the same time he gets his wife a cheap trinket - a Chinese back-scratcher.
Complications raise their ugly head when Inescort --who is no naive fool and is fully aware of her husband's philandering --finds the bracelet. Bumbling Benchley's alibi is that he bought it for Astaire who is sweet on Hayworth. From then on quid pro quos and complications multiply as good friend Fred pretends to court Ritaand of course, falls for her.
After a promising start the movie goes downhill. The main development is that Astaire is drafted in the Army and sent to boot camp, where, predictably he gets into trouble, illogically re-meets Hayworth, and cliché of clichés, has to organize a show for the "boys."
As a romance, the film is another routine twist on déjà vu situations. As a musical, it is unexceptional. Seeing it again I was unimpressed with and indifferent to the dance numbers except for the very first one.
Before things get going, Fred demonstrates what he expects of the chorus girls by dancing with Rita. That's a rather short number in which the two stars are excellent as a team in lovely, appealing, un-flashy ways.
The film, made in 1941, premiered in September of that year. Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) was not far in the future. The boot camp part is definitely ante-bellum and, in retrospect, irritatingly naïve, superficial, totally escapist and unconscious that World War II had been going on since 1939.
I find three small virtues in this picture. As usual, Benchley's supporting role steals whatever there is to steal. Then there is comedian Cliff Nazarro whose lightning fast delivery of incomprehensible talk provides a few minutes of amusement. Finally, we have the presence of Frieda Inescort (1901-1976.) She was born in Edinburgh of British parents. Her mother was a (mostly would-be) actress, her father a journalist about whom I can find no information. Frieda was the personal secretary of Lady Astor, thus exposed to the aristocracy. Later, on stage and screen she portrayed beautiful, elegant, wonderfully self-controlled high-class ladies. For reasons of health she retired early from the movies. Her problem, as per some sources, was Alzheimer's disease at a time when that malady was hardly known and not yet baptized.
I am still trying to figure out the puzzling title of this movie.
The picture is worth at most a mediocre grade. But the second Astaire-Hayworth movie ("You Were Never Lovelier" -- which is indeed what Rita was in it) has stood the test of time and remains a first-rate item (*** 1/2) in all respects.