I'm haunted by Cover Girl. It's got me. I can't figure out why. I loved it as a kid. Does it tap into some subconcious memories of idyllic childhood? Y'all know I love musicals. But usually this appreciation is derived from the art of the dance, or the music, or the vocal interpretation of a song. The stories aren't necessarily captivating; you just wait for the next number. But I find myself rooting for the characters in this movie. I really love Rusty and Danny and genuinely care that everything works out for them. Why them? Why do these characters seem more real to me than Mickey and Judy's? Or Betty Grable and her stable of leading men?
Rita Hayworth is surely a Goddess. Yup, capital "G". And yet I have the feeling that I could approach Rusty Parker. She's a swell gal who just happens to be drop-dead gorgeous. Maybe it's because of her flaws. She's a little flaky; skipping rehearsals (and she needs them, as we see in her opening number), cutting performances to go to a party. Rusty! It must have been great fun for her to play the dual role of Rusty and her turn-of-the-century grandmother.
I want Gene Kelly's Danny McGuire to be my best friend. Talented, sensitive, wears his heart on his sleeve. There's a moment when he sings a full stanza of Long Ago and Far Away with his eyes closed. Have you ever seen this in any other movie? He's so vulnerable, it's so intimate! These characters sense they're losing each other, and he's basically praying with all of his might that they can hold on to this moment. It's aching, I tell ya.
I wish that Rita and Gene were housed at the same studio; I'd like to have seen more of this pairing.
What a bunch of characters! When I watch Mildred Pierce, I await every scene featuring Eve Arden, but Cover Girl is ultimate Eve. Really. She gives every line such punch! She doesn't even need a line. Her silent reactions to boisterous sailors, flirtatious Phil Silvers, and "a leaping thyroid" [the misguided Rusty Parker] are telling and hilarious. When Mr. Coudair asks, "What does a young girl think about when she's going down the aisle to be married?"; well, if they put Eve's expression into words, it wouldn't have gotten past the censors.
Maybe Otto Kruger is the real heart of this picture? The entire plot revolves around his heartache. He's pining for his one love -- who turns out to be Rusty's long departed grandmother. His wistful performance veils the entire movie, and is reflected in the longing that exists in the relationships of Rusty and Danny, as well as Noel Wheaton and Rusty. How about the showgirl who answers the phone with "Sure I'll marry you; who is this?" This a world of missed connections. I imagine this is what much of the world was feeling with so many of the boys off to war and most of the women valiantly keeping the homestead. Is it this war time tugging that thumps my heart?
The power of a song. One of my theories is that my ardor for this film is merely based on the heartbreaking tune, "Long Ago and Far Away". I've come to realize that so many of the moments that seem most sincere and telling have this Jerome Kern melody in the underscoring. Having this terrific music knocking on my subconcious makes me believe anything on screen.
Cinderella. Certainly, there's a certain Cinderella aspect to this film. The irony is that the "before" picture in this make-over is the gorgeous Rita Hayworth. But there's something thrilling about her "magic carpet ride" as they make her over for the cover of Vanity. Who do you suppose those make-up and camera people are? Are they really Columbia make-up personnel making a cameo (like Sidney Guilaroff did in New York New York)? Once the cover's been published, Rusty's colleagues pin up the magazine backstage -- but the prop is wrong! Take a look next time you see this flick; the magazine doesn't match. It doesn't even look like Rita Hayworth, and the pose is different. Then in the close-up it's the "true" cover.
Fashionista. There's so much right and so much wrong and so much that's so wrong that it's right and well... the apparel in this movie is dazzling. Kenneth Hopkins' millinery work is wild. From the purposefully tacky, pheasant festooned hats of Maribelle to the dangerously perched fluffs on Eve Arden and the potential models. Look at that plaid number nailed to the side of Eve's head as she plays billiards! Great use of muffs throughout. Fur or fur trimmed, some draping a yard from the wrist, some looking like a giant nosegay of violets. A gal could keep a lot of ration coupons in those accessories.
It's great fun seeing Eve Arden dressed as the Miranda Priestly of her day. Dazzling jewels, fantastically draped gowns, she's a knockout. Rita's Rusty Parker is a mixed bag. The sillouhette of her brocade post-show dress (with matching fur trimmed muff) sets her off magnificently. Her [sepia!!!] wedding gown looks more like a honeymoon negligee (that's not a complaint), and shows plenty of gam when she dances (that's an appreciation). But that party dress for her "Long Ago and Far Away" number makes her look like a toilet paper cozy that one finds at a flea market.
How many hairdressers must have worked on this movie? There are so many elaborate, fantasy hairdoos. Even the lowly on-screen receptionist has a sweet updoo that would make a meringue jealous. Why don't the receptionists at my office wear their hair like this (nor dress in silk jersey day dresses and seamed stockings)?
What's wrong? There's a certain irony that Rita Hayworth couldn't sing; that one of the most beautiful standards of the time was introduced by the unseen Martha Mears, as Rita lipsynched. Rita was a beautiful dancer... or was she just a beautiful showgirl who so enchants us that she makes us think she can dance? She's no Cyd Charisse, or is it just that the choreographers didn't put her to use? In the end, none of this matters to me. She's got me. I'm powerless whenever I look at her.
Choreographer Jack Cole said, "I was brought in on Cover Girl because Val Rasset and Seymour Felix were very old-fashioned ballet and girlie dance directors, not used to doing the new style numbers [Columbia studio head Harry] Cohn wanted for this big new musical with which he hoped to out-Metro Mayer. ... Movies at that time were always about ten years behind theatre in a kind of way. I used to tease Harry, because my contract stated that I was hired for my 'peculiar and unique talents', but they wanted you to do what they'd been doing, and hoped that in some magical way it would come out peculiar and unique. And I'd tell Harry, 'if I'm doing the same dumb thing, whether I'm unique and peculiar or not, it'll come out the same dumb way.' Regarding Rita: [She] "came in with the rest of the kids in the morning; did her bit; no fuss; no star; just work. But when it was for real, then she let go. ... The moment film was in the camera she was the most animated object I'd ever seen."
And of course this was the movie that gave us all a hint of what Gene Kelly had in store. His showcase piece featured his favorite partner -- Gene Kelly. The alter-ego dance number that Gene Kelly choreographed with Stanley Donen is inventive and made MGM see that this guy they'd loaned out had something.
So I don't know what it is, but there something unique and elusive about this bittersweet musical. I'm glad to see it's now on DVD, yet it's a testament to my love for it that I bought it even though there are absolutely no supplemental features -- not even the film's trailer. Now whenever I get a pang for this beauty, I can pull it off the shelf. This love ain't elusive.