Nightclub dancer Rusty (Hayworth) enjoys working at boyfriend Danny’s (Kelly) club in Brooklyn. But her world changes when she wins a Cover Girl contest organised by a wealthy magazine owner. Rusty becomes a Broadway sensation, but is fame and fortune a fair substitute for true love?
Part propaganda pick-me-up, part Star is Born style tear jerker, Cover Girl celebrates a neighbourhood kind of love, with the unlikelihood of the denouement glazed over in a rush of patriotism.
For all their spectacle, the big stage numbers are a bit stodgy and un-dynamic. It’s the solo dances that struck me: Rita Hayworth opening up as she swirls around a big theatre stage for the first time; and Gene Kelly’s angry ‘ghost dance’ with himself through a stage version of Brooklyn streets.
It’s interesting how all the dancers’ bodies seem very fallible and human here – glamorous yes, but also a bit awkward, none of that well-oiled human libidinal machinery you get in music videos nowadays. A really good instance is the opening number, The Show Must Go On. The girls are all in a line and all slightly out of synch in their movements (to show that this is a slightly downmarket place they work in). I wonder how difficult it was to choreograph something like that, to build in error, a human factor?
I’m a miserable old goat and proud of it but even I started to well up during the first rendition of hit song Long Ago and Far Away, just after Kelly uses the killer line “it was the best goodbye music I ever danced to”. Once I lost that inhibition I thoroughly enjoyed this. The other standout line is from a dancer who answers the backstage phone with: “Sure I’ll marry you! Who is this, please?”
I still think the first 30 minutes, with all its comrades-in-poverty shtick (tandem tapdances up and down brownstone steps) is a bit too cheesy and optimistic, although it is wonderfully undercut by the sequence after Rusty receives the telegram announcing her big break. That bitter note of ambition – the first sense of conflict and drama – is where the film picks up. Then we’re into a stunning ‘make-up’ montage sequence and va-voom we’re off!
Cover Girl is out on a dual-format edition on 13 February.