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You Were Never Lovelier

People in Buenos Aires speak Spanish. Unless, that is, they're all appearing in a Hollywood musical. Then they speak English. And not even accented English or Spanglish or just peppering a few phrases with "sì" and "gracias" and "¿donde esta la cucina?" — flat-out English, like they're from Brooklyn or Des Moines or Sacramento. But whaddya expect? It's 1942, there's a war on, and folks want to see a matinee starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth with a little South American flavor. They don't want to read subtitles for pete's sake. Astaire stars in You We're Never Lovelier as New York song-and-dance man Robert Davis, who doesn't much love his profession and would much rather spend a day at the race-track. Those who know him aren't surprised to find that he's turned up in Buenos Aires to take a break from the Manhattan club scene and put some money on the ponies. But a string of bad bets leaves him with empty pockets, and he winds up in the office of local hotel owner Eduardo Acuna (Adolphe Menjou), hoping to get a booking in his exclusive "Sky Room" bar. Even an old pal, bandleader Xavier Cugat (playing himself), can't get Robert a leg up — Acuna's a tough nut who won't give the dancer the time of day. Meanwhile, at the Acuna homestead, the eldest daughter is soon to be married, which means that Maria Acuna (Hayworth) must find a husband before her two younger sisters will be allowed to marry their suitors. Good luck, though — cynical Maria doesn't care two bits for most men, having long since decided she should wait for her knight on a white horse. Hoping to break Maria's cool intransigence, her father plays secret admirer and starts sending her anonymous orchids and love-notes. But when Robert gets roped into delivering some of Acuna's orchids, Maria thinks he's her mysterious suitor — forcing Acuna to hire him at his nightclub in order to sustain the ruse.

Even for a 97-min. film, it's a slender thread on which to hang a movie, but You Were Never Lovelier was the bread-and-butter of the studio system at its height, offering some dinner-theater comedy to keep folks entertained amidst a variety of musical numbers. And it's not all Astaire and Hayworth — Xavier Cugat's orchestra gets two scenes all to themselves, with their own singers, and co-star Adolphe Menjou practically gets as much screen-time as the headlining duo. Those looking for Astaire and Hayworth might be leaning on the fast-forward — Astaire sings one modest ballad, while his "Audition Dance" is the solo highlight of the film, wherein he unleashes a tap routine in Acuna's office. Astaire and Hayworth team up for the elegant "I'm Old-Fashioned" and the jazzy tap number "The Shorty George." And Hayworth looks incredibly radiant throughout in a variety of figure-hugging outfits, which sort of explains why nobody cared that her singing was dubbed. Got a sharp eye? Look for a teenage Fidel Castro as one of the extras — movie legend says he's here somewhere. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of You We're Never Lovelier features a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) from a very good black-and-white source print that shows some collateral wear but still retains excellent granular detail, while the monaural DD 2.0 audio is clear and pleasant. Trailer gallery, keep-case.
—Robert Wederquist

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