You’ll Never Get Rich, 1941, Columbia Pictures. Starring Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, Robert Benchley. Directed by Sidney Lanfield. Music by Cole Porter. B&W, 88 minutes.
Broadway dancer Sheila Winthrop (Rita Hayworth) finds herself attracted to theater manager Robert Curtis (Fred Astaire), who shares her feelings. Unfortunately, the theater owner, Martin Cortland (Robert Benchley), is also entranced by the beautiful Sheila, much to the chagrin of his wife, Julia (Frieda Inescort).
Martin buys Julia an expensive Chinese backscratcher at the same time he purchases a diamond bracelet for Sheila, having the bracelet engraved for the dancer. The gifts get mixed up and Julia threatens Martin with divorce, who attempts fast talking his way out of the situation by giving her the gift he originally intended. He then tells Julia he purchased the bracelet for Robert to give to Sheila.
That evening, Robert and Sheila are out for dinner when they run into the Cortlands, who are celebrating their fifteenth wedding anniversary. Well, celebrating may not be quite the right word, as Julia remains suspicious. Martin attempts to placate her by slipping the bracelet to Robert and telling the two women his same story about purchasing it for Robert.
Robert gives the gift to Sheila, who embraces him and tells him she is “deliriously happy.” When the two walk away, a newspaper photographer, who had taken a picture of them on the dance floor, asks Martin and Julia for their names and details about the couple. Martin not only tells the newsman their names, he states they are practically engaged.
What Robert doesn’t know is Sheila knew about the bracelet and Martin’s plan to give it to her, and her kiss is just an act. She becomes suspicious of Robert’s intentions, and more so when she reads a newspaper report the next day about her alleged engagement to Robert. The man she had been seeing, Army Captain Tom Barton, reads the paper and sets Robert up, leading him to believe he is actually Sheila’s brother and plans to shoot Robert.
Robert runs from the scene and back to Martin’s office, where he learns he is about to be drafted. He ends up in the same base that Captain Barton is stationed at, and the mix ups continue, landing Robert in the guardhouse. Can he convince Sheila that he is an honorable man?
You’ll Never Get Rich was one of Columbia’s most expensive projects to date, and it paid off. In fact, the project was so successful that Columbia brought the starring pair together again a year later for You Were Never Lovelier. The first musical made a star of Hayworth, whose career had been flagging up to this time with mostly B-film projects, in part because of her Latina ethnicity (studio executives thought her look was “too exotic”). During production, Life magazine featured her on its cover, and inside placed a photo of her kneeling on a bed in a nightgown, which quickly became one of the all-time favorite pinup photos.
While he skillfully evaded the question for many years, Astaire eventually admitted Hayworth was his favorite dancing partner. He added that “Rita danced with trained perfection and individuality … She was better when she was ‘on’ than at rehearsal.” Astaire was highly complimentary of Hayworth’s abilities saying, “she learned steps faster than anyone I’ve ever known. I’d show her a routine before lunch. She’d be back right after lunch and have it down to perfection.” Like Astaire, Hayworth had studied dance from a young age, with her first experience as a professional coming at the age of 12. She danced with her father in bars in Tijuana, Mexico. The family lived in Los Angeles, but California law didn’t allow an underage girl to perform in bars or casinos, so the family took the act south.
You’ll Never Get Rich received one Academy Award nomination, for the haunting song “Since I Kissed My Baby Goodbye,” which was nominated for Best Song.
While it’s not one of Astaire’s best known films, nor is it one of his best, You’ll Never Get Rich is well worth the watch for the skilled dancing of its stars and a fun, timely–what with World War II looming–story line with the standard mix ups and misunderstandings that are a requisite in any romantic comedy. Astaire always delivers and Hayworth proved her worth in this film that shot her to stardom.