You’ll Never Get Rich

Directed by Sidney Lanfield in 1941, credits courtesy of the local council...

You’ll Never Get Rich is the first of two pictures Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth made together. It launched Hayworth as a major star and pinup icon, and gave Astaire a much-needed boost in a career suffering from the lack of Ginger Rogers. Rita was truly beautiful, and a talented dancer as it turned out. Fred was as graceful and charming as ever, and the dance routines are magical. Problem is, all these great ingredients are dumped into a picture that isn’t very good. And… why is it called You’ll Never Get Rich anyway?

The plot is a standard farce based on love, lies and misunderstandings. Robert Curtis (Astaire) is a choreographer in a fancy night club owned by Martin Cortland (Robert Benchley). Mr. Cortland is rather fond of Miss Sheila Winthrop (Hayworth), one of the girls in the chorus line. He buys her an engraved diamond bracelet, but Mrs. Cortland (Frieda Inescort) finds the bracelet and demands answers. Martin spins a web of lies, telling his wife that Robert is courting Sheila, and asking Robert to play along. After being threatened by Sheila’s actual suitor (John Hubbard), Robert is only too delighted to be drafted into the army. This is clearly an exercise in morale-boosting, it being made “during the war”.

"Say, you wouldn't happen to be a little teapot?"

"No no, I said barracks!"

Unsuited to army life, Robert gets into various scrapes which frequently land him in the guard house. The guard house is conveniently unsegregated, allowing Astaire to perform the best solo dance routines of the film, to music by great African-American musicians including a young Chico Hamilton. His endlessly creative dancing is a joy to watch, with plenty of unexpected changes in tempo and some fun syncopated rhythms. Sadly these dance routines are too few and far between. The dialogue and acting aren’t a match for a hilarity of Astaire and Rogers classics like Top Hat or Swing Time. Comedically, the best You’ll Never Get Rich has to offer is a character whose lines descend into gibberish in the middle, leaving other characters bemused and unable to respond. It’s a neat trick the first time, but I didn’t expect the guy to become a main character!

On other counts, You’ll Never Get Rich does deliver. It’s packed with glamour shots of the achingly beautiful Rita Hayworth – to remind the troops of those whaddyacallem… women! – and Fred obliges us with several great, great dance numbers. As light entertainment it’s fine and dandy, but it doesn’t pass the “classic” test: The thought of never seeing it again does not bother me in the slightest.

Three top hats out of five

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