You’ll Never Get Rich (1941)
“Exciting loveliness and rhythm in a star-spangled army musical!”
Director: Sidney Lanfield
Cast: Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, Robert Benchley
Synopsis: Martin Cortland, a philandering Broadway producer, is caught by his wife buying a gift for a chorus dancer, Sheila Winthrop. To save his marriage, Martin insists that dancer Bob Curtis bought the gift, and sets the two up on date.
You’ll Never Get Rich marked the first teaming of Fred Astaire with Rita Hayworth, and although they only made two movies together — the second was You Were Never Lovelier in 1942 — Astaire considered Hayworth his favourite dance partner. She’s certainly a better dancer than Ginger Rogers, although probably not quite as accomplished as Eleanor Powell, with whom Astaire had recently appeared in Broadway Melody of 1940. What Powell lacked, however — and what Hayworth possessed in abundance — was sex appeal. She was 23-years-old when she made You’ll Never Get Rich, a noticeable age difference with Astaire of nearly twenty years — and rarely looked lovelier.
The movie contains more comedy than most of Astaire’s earlier work, with most of it provided by Robert Benchley as his philandering boss, or double-talking army recruit Cliff Nazarro and his sidekick Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams. Astaire plays Robert Curtis, a choreographer for impresario Martin Cortland (Benchley), a middle-aged man who finds himself incapable of keeping his hands off the dancing girls, much to the weary resignation of his long-suffering wife (Frieda Inescort). When she finds a diamond Curtis, and insists that Curtis take Sheila to a night club where he can present Sheila with the bracelet in front of Cortland’s wife.
Naturally, misunderstandings follow, with Curtis falling for Sheila — who’s also sweet on him, despite already having a boyfriend, army captain Tom Barton (John Hubbard). But Sheila knows the bracelet was bought by Cortland, and has Barton pose as her irate brother insisting at gunpoint that Curtis marry her. Fortunately for Curtis, call-up papers to the army means he has a ready-made excuse to get out of town, even though he has to take his medical with a heavy metal ring under his hat in order to make the weight (he’s 5lb under, but in reality would probably have been a stone under. Let’s face it, Astaire was no hunk). As usual with Hollywood comedies of the 1940s, coincidences abound, and the captain at Curtis’s barracks just happens to be Barton, something Curtis only finds out after thumping him in the mistaken belief that he has come to shoot him for not marrying Sheila.
Of course, it’s not long before Sheila appears at the camp, rekindling Curtis’s interest in her and prompting him to get into all sorts of scrapes. It’s all insubstantial froth of course, as lightweight as Astaire himself, but the first half at least contains some genuinely funny moments before sinking into a contrived mess of misunderstandings and romantic subterfuge (Astaire substitutes a real clergyman into a dance routine so that he can marry Sheila without her realising — a sure basis for a long and happy marriage).
Although You’ll Never Get Rich isn’t one of Astaire’s better movies, it’s diverting enough and he at least confines himself to singing just one number. I wonder whether he had some sort of clause in his contracts that gave him the right to sing in his movies, because that light, weak voice of his is strictly second-rate, and it’s hard to see producers giving him songs to sing through choice. Of course, the dance numbers are sublime, in particular an early tap dance shared by Astaire and Hayworth, and a deliriously energetic solo dance in a suspiciously clean and spacious guardhouse.
(Reviewed 31st August 2013)