In some of Fred Astaire's movies there's only one excellent reason to watch, and that's to watch Fred Astaire. In You Were Never Lovelier there are three other excellent reasons. Rita Hayworth. Jerome Kern. Johnny Mercer. The four of them have concocted a romantic and funny South American fable that features some great dancing by both Astaire and Hayworth and some memorable songs by Kern and Mercer.
Eduardo Acuna (Adolphe Menjou), a wealthy Buenos Aires businessman, has four beautiful daughters, and in the Acuna family they must marry in age order. The eldest fulfills her responsibilities and the two youngest have beaus they're now anxious to share vows with. But the second eldest, Maria (Rita Hayworth) is in no hurry. She wants romance and charm and the men she meets are just panting boys. Then she sees Robert Davis (Fred Astaire), a very charming, down-on-his-luck dancer, singing Dearly Beloved at her elder sister's wedding. He tries to chat her up; she stares him down. Then the plot intervenes. Before long she knows what she wants. Robert knows what he wants. Eduardo Acuna knows what he doesn't want...a down-on-his-luck dancer in the family. From then on it's songs, dances, romance and misunderstandings, which moves into songs, dances and romance. The plot feels sluggish at times and there's way too much Xavier Cugat and his orchestra, but Astaire and Hayworth are at their peak, Kern has written some memorable melodies and few could top Mercer at lyric writing, none in Hollywood.
Hayworth not only was a gorgeous creature, she was a gifted dancer; many think she was the best Astaire worked with. Technically, she not only handled the steps Astaire created, she did so without a hint of effort. After you've watched the dances a couple of times, go back and watch again, but this time concentrate on her face and her hand and arm action. She gives every indication of being utterly relaxed and enjoying herself, even in the fast tap routines. She seems naturally to find the most graceful attitude for an extended arm, a turn of her head, a raised hand. She may not be quite as good as Astaire, but she's good enough.
Among the stand-out routines are:
--The Audition Dance. Robert shows up at Acuna's office and demands a chance to show his stuff as a dancer. From there Astaire takes off on a fast tap routine that takes him all over the floor, onto Acuna's desk, the sofa and chairs. He works into the dance a cane, a rug, the drapes and Acuna's head.
--I'm Old Fashioned. This is probably the best romantic wooing dance Astaire did. It's all fluid motion and spontaneous recognition, danced on the elegant, polished outdoor landing of Acuna's mansion. Rita Hayworth is a vision, and matches him step for step. We move from Maria declaring with humor and assurance that Robert's the man for her, to Robert's protestation that he's just a guy from Omaha, Nebraska, to the dance that brings them closer and closer together until we know through the dance that a love match has just happened. The funny exit through the doors and back into the living-room, bumping into each other, each giving way, bumping again and then going in together arm in arm hits just the right note. The dance works so well in part because Kern and Mercer came up with a classic:
I'm old fashioned,
I love the moonlight,
I love the old fashioned things.
The sound of rain
Upon a window pane,
The starry song that April sings.
This year's fancies
Are passing fancies
But sighing sighs, holding hands,
These my heart understands.
I'm old fashioned
But I don't mind it.
That's how I want to be,
As long as you agree,
To stay old fashioned with me.
--The Shorty George. This fast tap routine starts out with Maria visiting Robert at a rehearsal. He sings The Shorty George and she takes a couple of lines. He looks surprised that she knows the song. He starts to dance and invites her to join him. Hayworth stays right with Astaire and looks like she's having the time of her life.
--You Were Never Lovelier. Robert declares his feelings for Maria, but more misunderstandings occur. Finally, everything is resolved. Robert shakes off some knight's armor he was wearing (there is sort of a reason) and appears below Maria's bedroom window in black tie. She rushes down...and off they go dancing while all the members of the Acuna family look on approvingly. And the Johnny Mercer lyrics and Jerome Kern music brings us to the happy end:
You were never lovelier, you were never so fair;
Dreams were never lovelier,
Pardon me if I stare.
Down the sky the moonbeams fly to light your face;
I can only say they chose the proper place.
You were never lovelier, and to coin a new phrase,
I was never luckier
In my palmiest days.
Make a note, and you can quote me, honor bright,
You were never lovelier than you are tonight.