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Afternoon Delight's American Musical Series #4: Rita Hayworth

by Jerome Weeks 17 Mar 2011 1:00 PM

Rita Hayworth was a sexier partner for Fred Astaire than Ginger Rogers, but their pair-ups occurred in black-and-white films that are pretty fuzzy on YouTube and that lack any close-ups of Hayworth, showcasing her vivacious joy in dancing. But for our series this week on Great American Movie Musical Moments, we’ve picked “I’m Old-Fashioned,” a lovely, feather-light duet from 1942.


Afternoon Delight is a daily diversion for when you’re just back from lunch, but not quite ready to get back to work. Check back tomorrow at 1 p.m. for another one.

As a partner for Fred Astaire, Hayworth was far sexier than his more vaunted companion, Ginger Rogers. The great drawback with their on-camera pair-ups, though, is that the rooted-camera style of the period dictated that, once the dancing started, there were no cuts or close-ups (even medium close-ups). That’s one problem with using so few edits during the dance numbers. The result, at least on YouTube video, is the resolution is so fuzzy you don’t get the sense — as you can in Hayworth’s later color films — of one of her great assets as a dancer: the sheer erotic joy she brings to physical movement. It’s not the pasted-on smile so many dancers have; Hayworth truly lights up when she starts to move.

On the other hand, many of Hayworth’s later color films are too well known (Gilda being the best example) or more than a bit ridiculous. In the wonderfully bizarre crash landing that is 1947’s Down to Earth, for example, she plays the muse Terpsichore who takes over a Broadway musical because she’s offended by what we mortals have done to dance. It goes well beyond camp into someplace truly strange.

So I’ve settled on the enchanting Jerome Kern-Johnny Mercer number “I’m Old-Fashioned” from 1942’s You Were Never Lovelier – with Astaire the uncredited choreographer and with Hayworth dubbed (by Nan Wynn), as often happened even though she had a fine voice. The dancing doesn’t start until almost the 2:30 mark, but it seamlessly slips into a bit of tap and then a brief, light tango partway through. A sign of Astaire’s modesty: In heels, Hayworth is clearly taller than he is. It wouldn’t have taken much to make the adjustment, either.

One flaw with the dancing as it exists on film: It’s shot with just a single edit until the 4:44 mark — when it’s clearly wrapping up. But for some reason, there’s another take just for those last 15 seconds. Something must have gone wrong because that second cut doesn’t add anything — no new camera angle, nothing. Otherwise, it’s a lovely sequence with Astaire, feather-light as always, and with Hayworth and her long, long arms and her vivacious energy.