Title: You Were Never Lovelier
Release Date: 1942
Length: 97 minutes
Director: William A. Seiter
Starring: Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, Adolphe Menjou
Fred Astaire is best known for his pairing with Ginger Rogers, indeed, they made ten movies together. Not only were they well-suited as dance partners, but they were also a great comedic match; their chemistry was remarkable. An unfortunate side effect, however, is that some other actresses who also danced with Astaire go overlooked even though they made good movies and performed well.
You Were Never Lovelier is a film with one such actress: Rita Hayworth. In this, her second pairing with Astaire, she dances beautifully and gives an excellent comedic turn as the daughter of a wealthy South American hotel owner, Señor Acuña, played by Adolphe Menjou. Acuña is irascible with those outside his family and autocratic with everyone. He insists his daughters must be married in sequence from oldest to youngest, and with his eldest just married it’s the turn of his second daughter Maria, who is played by Hayworth. Despite being next in line, she has no interest in any of her current suitors nor any possible or prospective suitors who are on the horizon. Her younger sisters though, are both “secretly” engaged and anxious that she should take her turn so they can have theirs.
Acuña conceives a plan to accomplish this by writing anonymous notes and sending them with orchids to his daughter. He borrows from the great love letters and poetry of the past in order to stir her ardor for her unknown admirer and then plans to find the man to supply later figuring that he will then get to approve of his son-in-law and his daughter will have been fooled into accepting whoever he chooses to nominate. What could go wrong?
Well, the monkey in the wrench, Hans, is Astaire as Robert Davis, a professional dancer who finds himself stranded in Buenos Aires having lost his bankroll at the racetrack. He attempts to wangle a job at the hotel owned by Acuña; to no avail, but in the process accidentally makes Maria think he is the anonymous admirer because he delivers a note and flowers once while attempting to ingratiate himself with Acuña. It has, of course, the opposite effect. Hijinks ensue as Davis and Maria slowly fall for each other and Acuña tries to both eject Davis and keep Maria from learning of his scheme so that he be the one to choose her husband.
The absurdities pile up, the end is rather predictable, but it’s a lot of fun getting there. Astaire has a couple nice dances with Hayworth and a great solo in Acuña’s office. Gus Schilling steals his scenes as Acuña’s secretary who has only been hired because he’s third-cousin to Acuña’s wife. Xavier Cugat plays himself as bandleader for the hotel’s club orchestra because…why not? It’s not great art, but it is a delightful pleasure. All in all, an oft-overlooked minor gem for all three stars.