We might as well get the Unpleasantness out of the way.
The Unpleasantness is in the musical comedy, You’ll Never Get Rich (1941), a film about a New York musical stage director (Fred Astaire) who receives a draft notice from the U.S. Army. This notice couldn’t come at a Better Time; it’s the answer to all his troubles.
Just what are Astaire’s troubles? We’re glad you asked.
First, he’s tasked with directing a musical number with multiple female dancers who adore him. Unhappily for them, he’s Very Busy and has No Time for romance.
Second, his boss (Robert Benchley) is a wealthy producer and notorious womanizer. He buys a diamond bracelet for one of the dancers, only to have it discovered by his wife (Frieda Inescort). He tells Inescort that Astaire bought the bracelet for one of the dancers – yeah, that’s it – and he’s keeping it safe, like the great pal he is.
Third, if Astaire wants to stay employed, he has to pretend he’s madly in love with the Dancer in Question.
Lastly, the dancer at the centre of all this is Rita Hayworth. Astaire’s character won’t admit it, but her very presence threatens to upset his regimented existence.
Now, you may be thinking none of this sounds Unpleasant, and it isn’t. The problem is with Hayworth: She’s talented and funny, and criminally underused in this film.
You’ll Never Get Rich should be titled Fred Astaire Joins the Army. Now, we don’t begrudge Astaire his starring role – he is Fred Astaire, after all – and his joining the army is amusing indeed.
But the far more interesting thing here is the diamond bracelet that keeps resurfacing, and Hayworth’s reaction each time she sees it.
The first time Hayworth is given the bracelet is in Benchley’s office. It’s an extravagant gift, especially considering Benchley can’t remember her name, but she’ll have No Part of this. She slips the bracelet into the pocket of his overcoat as she leaves his office.
The next time she sees the bracelet is later that evening, at a swanky nightclub. She’s there at Astaire’s invitation, but doesn’t realize Astaire only trying to fool Benchley’s suspicious wife. When Astaire presents Hayworth with the diamond bracelet, she realizes she’s been Set Up.
She’s no fool. Before she opens the bracelet box, Hayworth says, with exaggerated innocence, “It couldn’t be a diamond bracelet, could it?” After she opens it, she plants a big kiss on Astaire’s cheek, then collects her coat and handbag – and leaves the bracelet behind.
Hayworth is nothing but exuberant in this scene, and when she leaves it, she takes all the sparkle with her, leaving us with Astaire and his army shenanigans.
Hayworth had been in acting in Hollywood since 1934, when she was 16 year-old Rita Cansino. She was under contract to Fox Film Corporation (which later became Twentieth Century Fox), but it wasn’t until she signed a contract with Columbia Pictures that she became a Star.
Actually, it wasn’t until she changed her last name to Hayworth (her mother’s maiden name) and changed her hairline via electrolysis, that she became a Star.
According to Wikipedia, You’ll Never Get Rich was one of the most expensive films Columbia Pictures had made to date. “The picture was so successful,” says Wikipedia, “the studio produced and released another Astaire-Hayworth picture the following year, You Were Never Lovelier.“
Hayworth and Astaire have real on-screen chemistry; their banter and dancing are a joy to watch. In fact, Wikipedia quotes Astaire as saying Hayworth was his favourite dance partner.
Which is why this film can be a little frustrating. Hayworth is clearly capable of a bigger, more complex role, but this is not That Film.
If you haven’t seen Fred Astaire paired with Rita Hayworth, You’ll Never Get Rich is a good example of their chemistry. You just have to promise not to be too disappointed by Hayworth’s limited role.
This post is part of the 100 YEARS OF RITA HAYWORTH BLOGATHON hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood.
You’ll Never Get Rich: starring Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, Robert Benchley. Directed by Sidney Lanfield. Written by Michael Fessier & Ernest Pagano. Columbia Pictures, 1941, B&W, 88 mins.