Friday, December 27, 2013

Rita Entertains the Troops

Tonight and Every Night (1945) is the story of a small London theatre, the Music Box, which was able to continue performing every night during World War II, despite the constant bombings that plagued the city.  The film opens late in the war, with the arrival of a "Life" magazine reporter, who is doing a story on this remarkable achievement.  As he interviews performer Rosalind Bruce (Rita Hayworth), an American who was there from the beginning, we flash back to her recollections of the start of the war.

The music and dance in this film are the stage shows that our cast, Rosalind, Judy Kane (Janet Blair), Tommy Lawson (Mark Platt) and their colleagues put on at the theatre.  The songs aren't "book songs" - they don't advance the action of the story at all, which is unfortunate, as we would have liked a little more backstory concerning our performers. Why are both Rosalind and Judy in England? And what about Tommy? We know he worked in a store, but we would have liked to have learned more.  We also are given a love triangle: Judy loves Tommy, Tommy loves Rosalind, and Rosalind loves RAF Pilot Paul Lundy (Lee Bowman), and a story of friendship: the relationship between Judy and Rosalind is one of true loyalty to each other.  But, at times, we yearned for more depth about our characters, and it just wasn't forthcoming.

The story line is actually factually based.  The Windmill Theatre (which still exists) in London had the motto "We Never Closed", as it remained open throughout World War II.  The full story of the Windmill was told in the 2005 film Mrs. Henderson Presents, starring Judi Dench.  Our version of the story was based on a play about the Windmill called Heart of the City (the name of the theatre was changed due to copyright issues).  This article on the TCM Website will provide a bit more information about the history of Tonight and Every Night. 

There are some particularly good numbers in this film.  We were particularly taken with Janet Blair's rendition of the title song.  Staged as Judy summons London residents from a filmed newsreel, the number is imaginative, and beautifully done.  We especially liked the change from b&w to color as the performers emerge from "reel" to "real" life.  Also amazing is Mark Platt's improvisational audition.  Confessing that he dances at home to whatever is on the radio, theatre owner May "Tolly" Tolliver (Florence Bates) moves a radio dial to summon up a variety of different musical styles.  Finally, Tommy performs an impressive dance to speech by Adolph Hitler!  You can see that number in the clip below:


The film does a good job of painting a picture of life during the Blitz - the bravery of the performers in not only remaining in London, but performing despite extreme danger is made very clear.  We learn of other theatres that are damaged or destroyed, and we are affected by the casualties of the bombing.  Though the war was almost at an end when the film was released (January of 1945), filming probably occurred during the summer of 1944, as the Allied forces were invading the European mainland.  Rita Hayworth's daughter Rebecca was born in December of 1944, and Hayworth was pregnant during film. Dance scenes were filmed immediately, before the pregnancy would show.  Later scenes camouflaged  her condition with loose fitting clothing and muffs.  It's especially apparent in the "The Boy I Left Behind" number, where she wears long underwear, and the song "What Does an English Girl Think of a Yank". Rita's singing is dubbed again, but the dancing is all her.  And, as always, she is magnificent.

In closing, here is the lovely Ms. Hayworth in "You Excite Me", widely touted as one of her best routines in any of her films: