Cover Girl is reviewed from screener graciously provided by Twilight Time. Per the usual for the label, the release is a limited run of 3000, and is available for purchase exclusively through ScreenArchives.com.
While not exactly my area of expertise I must admit to having a bit of a soft spot for classic Hollywood musicals, particularly those wise enough to enlist the likes of Busby Berkeley, Al Jolson, Fred Astaire or, as is the case here, Gene Kelly. While my reaction was lukewarm at best to the only other musical reviewed here, 1957′s Sinatra / Hayworth / Novak vehicle Pal Joey (coincidentally also out on Blu-ray from Twilight Time), Charles Vidor’s Cover Girl is more my speed. A shining example of the feel-good cinema that thrived in the wartime ’40s, Cover Girl also boasts a top-flight production and lush Technicolor photography from aces Rudolph Maté (The Passion of Joan of Arc, When Worlds Collide) and Allen M. Davey (A Song to Remember). The film was a smash hit and made a bona fide star of young Gene Kelly, and the level of control he was allowed over certain aspects of the production gave audiences their first real taste of that Kelly style, later to be immortalized in classics like An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain.
Chorus girl Rusty (Rita Hayworth, reaching the height of her Columbia career) is happy with her lot in life as the star attraction of boyfriend Danny’s (Gene Kelly) small-time nightclub – happy, at least, until she chances into mega-stardom courtesy of a cover-girl contest put on by magazine mogul John Coudair (Otto Kruger, The Colossus of New York). Rusty’s newfound fame opens the usual doors and attracts the usual callers, and of them none are more persistent than Noel Wheaton (Lee Bowman,Buck Privates), who, by way of a proposal, casts her in a musical extravaganza and makes her the toast of Broadway. With Danny too sore about losing his star and his girl in one fell swoop to do anything about getting either back, it’s up to stage jokester Genius (MSgt. Bilko himself, Phil Silvers) and Rusty’s own (belated) good sense to set things right.
Packed with the usual emotional ups and downs but careful to keep audience anxieties to a bare minimum, Cover Girl is quintessential war-time Hollywood fare that invites viewers to wrap themselves in a manufactured conflict whose cheerful resolution is never in doubt. Screenwriter Virginia Van Upp is as calculating as Capra when it comes to eliciting a potent “feel good” whallop, even if she never lets her characters slip so close to perdition as the latter’s – with war raging on two fronts the romantic antics here were doubtless deemed dour enough.
While earthy verisimilitude it may lack, Cover Girl certainly isn’t left wanting in the production department. For aficionados of grand old-school Technicolor the picture is aces, courtesy of format directors Natalie Kalmus (Gone With the Wind) and Morgan Padelford (The Adventures of Robin Hood), art directors Lionel Banks (His Girl Friday) and Cary Odell (Cool Hand Luke), and the aforementioned directors of photography, Allen M. Davey and the legendary Rudolph Maté. More impressive still is the sheer scope of the thing – star Rita Hayworth was never given a more beautiful opportunity to demonstrate her considerable performance talents.
Still, brightly as Hayworth shines it is Kelly who really steals the show, crafting (with frequent co-conspirator Stanley Donen, Saturn 3) a few breakout dance numbers that elevate the film (and perhaps a whole genre) well above its former stage-bound limitations. Most memorable by far, and most indicative of the wonders Kelly was to achieve half a decade hence, is the late-film duet / tap-dance-off between Kelly and a literal mirror image of himself on a deserted city street that’s very Singin’ in the Rain indeed. A concept that might have been unforgivably bungled in less capable hands, the scene instead becomes an exercise in expert choreography and technical precision, a hell of a thing in its own right and the number one reason to search the film out. For those 4 minutes Cover Girl bursts towards the stratosphere, leaving its humble entertainment aspirations behind on its way to becoming high art – little else from the time can compare.
There’s an even-better-than-usual Sony restoration backing Twilight Time’s new Blu-ray of Cover Girl, with the result that it’s easily one of the best looking classic film releases of the year. Presented in 1080p at the accurate full-frame ratio of 1.33:1, the image here leaves precious little for even persnickety reviewers like myself to complain about. The practically blemish-free transfer belies what was surely a substantial effort on the part of Sony’s ace restoration team, but the transparency of their work is perhaps its own reward. Cover Girl looks camera fresh, with brilliant Technicolor saturation and contrast to match. The appearance is lush, if not exactly razor-sharp, and those allergic to grain manipulation will find none to distract here – the film’s texture is alive and well, and blessedly unperturbed.
Technically this is one of Twilight Time’s less robust efforts, with the 107 minute feature and minimal supplements occupying just a single layer BD25, but any adverse effects are negligible. The video is well represented by an Mpeg-4 AVC encode at a nice average bitrate of 26.4 Mbps, and aside from a bit of posterization briefly glimpsed in a few of the flat color backdrops to the title music number I noted nothing untoward. Audio is a simple unboosted DTS-HD MA 1.0 monophonic track that sounds quite magnificent, bearing in mind the age of the production (nearly 70 years!), and is accompanied by optional English SDH subtitles. While it’s unusual for a Twilight Time release to boast much supplemental content Cover Girl takes the issue to the extreme, offering no on-disc extras whatsoever (not even the usual isolated score). Another excellent essay by Julie Kirgo helps make up for the limitation, as does the modestly lower price point - Cover Girl retails for $29.95.
I’m well out of my depth when it comes to much of anything musical, and Cover Girl is no exception, but strong showings from Hayworth, Kelly, an excellent cast of supporting players (Kruger, Silvers, and the wonderful, underrated Eve Arden as no-nonsense secretary Cordelia “Stonewall” Jackson) and a similarly excellent roster of production personnel won me over handily. For those keen on classic musicals Cover Girl is a must-see, and even with its paucity of extras Twilight Time’s Blu-ray delivers the goods. Recommendations don’t come much easier.
All screenshots were captured as native resolution .png in Totem Movie Player, then compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% using the ImageMagick command line tool.