Rusty Parker (Rita Hayworth) is the lead performer in Danny McGuire's (Gene Kelly) Brooklyn night club. She learns of a contest to model for the fashion magazineVanity from fellow dancer Maurine Martin (Leslie Brooks) and decides to enter. Though Maurine does all she can to sabotage Rusty's chances, magazine editor John Coudair is so taken by Rusty's appearance that he hires her. It seems Rusty is the spitting image of John's lost love, Maribelle Hicks. It's no coincidence - Rusty is Maribelle's granddaughter. Unfortunately, not everyone is thrilled by Rusty's success. Maurine is furious; but Danny is also angry and jealous, for his girlfriend is being courted by other men; specifically, Noel Wheaton (Lee Bowman), who is as captivated by Rusty as John was by Maribelle. In his pursuit of her, Noel encourages Rusty to quit her job at Danny's place: he will get her show on Broadway.
Thus begins Cover Girl (1944). It is not really one of Gene Kelly's best musicals, which is sad to say. One of the problems is that there are just too many musical numbers which don't advance the plot; instead, the serve as distractions away from the story of Rusty and Danny. One example is the "Cover Girl" number, which is way too long, and Rita Hayworth isn't in enough of it. The same with "The Show Must Go On": you have to wait too long to see Hayworth, and instead, get to look at a bunch of models trying to be as engaging as Hayward (and not succeeding). It's not that the dancing or songs are bad, it's that they are jarring. They don't seem to fit into what is going on.
However, there are some wonderful numbers. Kelly's impressive "Alter Ego" number, in which he dances with himself, (back before CGI). Hayworth (not singing - Hayworth's singing was dubbed. More on that later) "Long Ago and Far Away" (a spectacular Jerome Kern/Ira Gershwin song), and finally the amusing "Poor John", which DOES advance the John-Maribelle story. Also intriguing is the first "trio" number with Phil Silvers (as Danny's best friend, Genius), Gene Kelly, and Rita Hayworth ("Make Way For Tomorrow"). The routine feels like a practice for Singin' in the Rain, perhaps not surprising, since it was developed by the same choreographers (Kelly and Stanley Donen). This was Donen's first film work with Kelly, so it is interesting to see the development of their unique and impressive partnership.
Though Rita Hayworth "sings" in a number of films, she is actually dubbed in every one of them. This was a surprise to us, as we were so familiar with her in Pal Joey and in Gilda. We, of course are curious as to WHY she was dubbed. We assume that powers-that-be deemed her inferior (as with Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner, and Natalie Wood - all of whom had sung in films with their own voices in other films, but in My Fair Lady, Showboat, and West Side Story, respectively, were determined to be vocally insufficient). However, she did do SOME singing in Gilda, and sang for the troops during World War II (see this article on Gilda from TCM). Below is a YouTube video of Ms. Hayward singing "The Heat is On". Why she wasn't allowed to sing is a mystery.
The movie draws some nice parallels between Rusty and her grandmother, but we felt that Rusty comes off as a bit more callous than Maribelle. Rusty clearly doesn't love Noel; and while Danny is acting like a total jerk, consenting to marry Noel is cruel to Noel. Is she going to Noel for security? Because she SHOULD be married? Or just passively letting Noel lead her by the hand? Regardless, she ends up jilting him at the altar (Maribelle tells John they are done long before their relationship gets that far). We thought that Noel took it a lot better than he should have.
As always, Eve Arden is tremendous as assistant editor Cornelia Jackson. The scene in which Rusty walks in being "animated" is a hoot; it's instantly apparent that Rusty is no actress (and that Hayworth is fantastic at mocking bad acting). But the scene is stolen in one look by Arden. As always, Ms. Arden can do more with an eyebrow than most performers can do with their entire body.
To close, here is one of our favorite novelty numbers from the film, Ms. Hayworth doing "Poor John".