Cover Girl June 7, 2016
To age well as a WWII era musical is about as easy as appearing to be original when you’re actually a Pulp Fiction rip-off released in 1995. As they were produced for no other reason than to cheer audiences of the time up as though war were not actually a reality, many suffer, at least in the eyes of a modern, disenchanted viewer, from overt slightness. Sweetness can sometimes be sickening, comparable to eating a Burj Khalifa sized ice cream sundae after running through a Mexican buffet a couple of times. Unless Singin’ in the Rain (which was post-war era) self-deprecation is in place, and unless golden musicality and snappy dance numbers layer the scenery, you’ve got yourself a time waster that feels like nothing more than a blockbuster made in a machine.
1944’s Cover Girl, the film that made a star out of Gene Kelly and captured Rita Hayworth at the pinnacle of her fame, oftentimes comes close to getting crushed under the weight of its own insipid formula. But because Kelly and Hayworth are even flashier dancers than Rogers and Astaire, because the tunes are performed enthusiastically, because the Technicolor photography is eyegasmic, and because it has the kinetic pomp to undo its plodding plot-based circumstance, there is enough excellence within it to deem it as something special. There’s a reason why Hayworth and Kelly have remained legends while Betty Grable and Dan Dailey have stayed put as cultural artifacts — they have unbreakable star quality that breaks the confines of period taste. And they’re more than just a little bit talented, though I’m sure you already knew that.
It’s an effective showcase for both. Hayworth headlines as Rusty Parker, a voluptuous chorus girl working for Danny McGuire (Kelly), a club manager who also serves as her boyfriend. Rusty is the type that would be content doing the same job for the rest of her life — she adores Danny and adores dancing, singing. Though she’s hardly lucrative, she’s doing what she loves.
Her predictable routine, however, is put on hold when opportunity for superstardom arrives. It is announced that Vanity magazine is looking for their latest cover model; naturally, they’re seeking a fresh face to give fame to, and all the girls of the city come flocking to the periodical’s headquarters for an interview. Rusty, predictably, is hired, but not merely because she’s one of the most beautiful women to walk the Earth. It also has something to do with the way she is a near replica of her grandmother, with whom Vanity’s editor (Otto Kruger) was in love during his youth.
Immediately, she’s a hit with audiences, who are fond of her beauty and soon find out about her spot in Danny’s show. Her popularity promises Broadway stardom, and it’s quick to find her. But Rusty is torn between her love of Danny and career potential — if she remains a part of his act, she’d have the ability to work with her cherished boyfriend until things get more serious. But if she diverges, there’s a chance her popularity could get in the way and harm their relationship. Rusty wouldn’t mind staying small time, but Danny reacts brashly, thus prompting her to swim in the waters of notoriety. Conflict arises when Noel Wheaton (Lee Bowman), the playboy friend of a stage producer, becomes romantically interested in her.
The plot of Cover Girl is forced and foreseeable and maybe all too reminiscent of one you’d find in a Broadway musical that never flew. But its assembly line substance doesn’t much matter because everything else is so radiant. Hayworth and Kelly are talented actors, sure, but the second they make way for the dance floor, we know we’re in for something special. The songs are similarly strong, unsurprising considering their being written by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin. The costumery and photography are warmly lavish.
So it’s all nicely decorated and nicely extravagant — like most musicals, its looks and its feelings are of utmost importance, meaning and great value not so much of a concern. It’s all light as a feather, really. But because it has terrific leads and because it’s manufactured efficiently, Cover Girl is a movie musical with a touchable glow. B