Classic Cinema - You'll Never Get Rich

A while back, I visited a thrift store here in Chicago with some friends. I didn't see too many things that triggered my interest (except, of course, my latest entry in Bad Romance), but I couldn't pass up a DVD of a movie that I'd never heard of until then - You'll Never Get Rich, starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth.


It seems that this is one of the first big budget movie musicals that Rita Hayworth was involved in, and it was during the production of the film that Life magazine featured the famous photo of her kneeling on a bed in a nightgown, which was helped to catapult her to the heights of Hollywood fame. 

Sheila (Rita Hayworth) is a chorus girl in a theater run by a goofy old lech, Martin Cortland. Martin's got his eye on Sheila, and he buys her a diamond bracelet, thinking that that will turn her head. Sheila, though, isn't having any of it, and slips the bracelet (which he's had engraved with her name) back into his jacket pocket. A moment later, as she's leaving, Martin's wife, Julia, enters the room. She, of course, finds the bracelet and is like "who the fuck is Sheila?" 

In a pretty lame attempt to cover his ass, Martin claims that the bracelet is for Sheila, but that it's from Robert (Fred Astaire), his theater manager. Sheila actually has quite a thing for Robert, so when he asks her out - at Martin's request - she's delighted. They dance cheek to cheek, and a newspaper photographer snaps a romantic photo of them. Once Martin and his wife arrive, though, and Robert gives her the bracelet that she knows is actually from Martin, she catches on to the scheme and quickly leaves, hiding her anger and disappointment. 


The next day, though, news of their "engagement" makes the papers, along with the photo. Sheila receives a call from a friend, Tom, who is young, handsome, and relieved to learn that she's not actually engaged to Robert. 

He heads over to her apartment, as does Robert, who has also seen the story in the paper and thinks that she's the one who put the story out. He tells her that there's no way they're getting married, and she calls him out on his lack of chivalry. Tom and Sheila's aunt, who have been hiding in another room during the conversation, decide to play a little joke on Robert. Tom bursts out with a gun, pretending to be Sheila's brother and threatening to shoot Robert for besmirching her honor. As Robert flees, the others collapse into laughter.

Robert goes to Martin, believing that Tom really is set to shoot him. Martin has just received a draft notice for Robert (side note - why would Martin have Robert's draft notice?), and while Martin is already looking for a way to get his right-hand man out of it, Robert is over the moon that he's got an easy way out of the situation with Sheila and her "brother."

In the dance number that gives the film it's title, Robert is heading off to boot camp, and as he's waiting for a train a brass band begins to play. Girls pile out of cars and stampede into the station - it's the theater company, there to give him a big sendoff.

Cut to Robert at camp - he's having a hard time restraining his dancing instincts as he marches and gets a dressing down. The depiction of army life is, overall, pretty lighthearted, although Robert definitely doesn't fit in - he can't drill and wakes everyone up coming into the barracks after lights out. There's also a short guy with a crazy accent who's kind of his friend, and that becomes kind of a running joke. 

Sheila mails him back the diamond bracelet, and he realizes that she's not a schemer or a gold-digger, and that he wasn't very nice to her. He even has a dream about her where he tries to court her, and Tom comes after him with a pitchfork. It's all very slapstick comedy, especially when he ends up punching his superior officer after he tries to wake him up. 

Then, Tom actually arrives the camp. Tom admits that he's not Sheila's brother and that it was all a joke, but Robert is still furious and hits him. It turns out that Tom is a captain, which means that Robert is in some serious trouble.

This is one of the things that's interesting about watching an older movie like this - I think that pretty much everyone in 1941 would have known how much higher in rank a captain is than a private, but that's something I had to look up.  

Robert is locked up, and Sheila, who has come to visit Tom, hears music coming from the guardhouse and goes to see what's going on. Robert is dancing to the music when Sheila walks by, and he tells her that he got the bracelet and tries to apologize. She teases him for being locked up, and he tries to tell her that he's a captain and that he's just inspecting it. She certainly knows better, and tells him that he might get ahead if he'd tell the truth once in a while.

Robert steals a uniform, and his friends decide that even if he doesn't convince her of anything, she'll be touched that he risked so much to impress her. They even tackle their sergeant when he tries to stop him.


Robert goes to see Sheila in the stolen uniform. He ends up having to bluff his way through a conversation with Tom's mother when Sheila and Tom walk in, and several other captains follow. Tom and the other officers seem more amused than anything - they clearly know what he's up to (I mean, he actually stole the uniform that he's wearing from one of them), but they don't immediately having him arrested or anything. 

Sheila shows Robert out, and he apologizes and asks to start over. She forgives him, and he hops in a car and turns himself in at the guardhouse.

I'm kind of weirded out that the only black people we see are locked up in the guardhouse, apparently solely so that they can play music for Robert to dance to, but hey! Fucked up race stuff is pretty much par for the course in movies from the 40s, and at least they're not portrayed as simple-minded. And, actually, I did a little research on the film when I was writing this up, and having an integrated guardhouse is both unrealistic and kind of progressive, in a strange way.

Anyway, Robert's so happy that he dances around the guardhouse like a mad man. Cut to a few weeks later, and he's super depressed because he's only seen Sheila from a distance and he doesn't know when he'll be let out.

Then, Martin swoops in - he offers to bring the company in for a show for the men and asks to have Robert let out to help with it (although he still has to spend his nights in the guardhouse). Robert questions Martin's motives, and rightly, as it turns out - Martin's fallen for another girl, Sonya, and he's putting on the show to set up a role for her. Robert insists on Sheila, and Martin acquiesces, but his new girl is pissed. He insists he has an angle to get her in the show, though. 

Rita's style in this movie is pretty fabulous - the next dance number features a drop waist black gown with a sheer polka dot overlay, and I. Want. It. 

Robert gives Sheila the bracelet again, only this time he's bought it from Martin and told her that he's fond of it because it brought them together. Then, Tom reappears on the scene - his mother says he's going to ask Sheila to marry him. 

Martin still has the bracelet, and when Robert goes to get it, Martin and Sonya start to scheme about how to... I don't know, break them up or get them together? Somehow, though, it's supposed to get Sonya the part that Sheila's in now.

Robert goes AWOL to get a wedding license and gets his buddies to cover for him. Martin tricks Sheila into going after him so that he's not found AWOL and court martialed (I'm really not clear about this plan, like, at all). 

Oh, wait, nevermind. Sonya's in the apartment half-naked when Robert arrives, and he tells her to hide when Sheila knocks on the door. Then the guards show up, and they have to try and sneak out the back, and Sheila discovers Sonya. Sonya tries to pretend that they'd had sex, but Sheila sees right through her - at least until she discovers that the bracelet now says "Dear Sonya" on it. Sheila decides to marry Tom and storms out.

Then, Robert has a brainwave and makes a phone call - Martin's wife.

The guards drag him off. Cut to Sonya onstage and Martin acting smug, at least until his wife walks in. Robert tips her off about the bracelet, Martin tries to pull the same thing her pulled with Sheila, but when Robert gives her the bracelet she embraces Martin, and he's forced to kick her out of the show. Without a leading lady, the show is cancelled.

Robert tricks his buddies into spreading a rumor that Sheila walked out on the show, and the men protest. The other officers convince her to rejoin the show at the insistence of the enlisted men. 

Robert gets a real justice of the peace to officiate a wedding number in the show. This number is bonkers, and ends with them as the dancing bride and groom atop a tank shaped wedding cake. 

Sheila is, predictably, NOT HAPPY that she unknowingly got married. Martin finally fesses up to what he did, and Sheila's thrilled, since Robert was the one she wanted to be with all along. Tom arranges to have Robert released, and Sheila and Robert take off on their honeymoon. 

Overall, I enjoyed it, but it's not going to be my favorite movie musical. Rita Hayworth is lovely, luminous, and one hell of a dancer, but I (gasp!) am realizing that I just don't care for Fred Astaire. Obviously he's an incredible talent, but he also seems like kind of a jerk to me, so I pretty much only find him believable when he's playing a jerk (Funny Face!). And that fact that he got the girl when he was just lying his ass off the whole time (in service to his boss, but still) just frustrated me. I gotta be honest, I'm team Tom all the way here. He's funny, honest, good looking, and ultimately really kind! But Robert is a good dancer, and of course Fred Astaire has to get the girl in the end.