Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Down to Earth (1947)

Down to Earth is a 1947 Columbia musical starring Rita Hayworth. It’s not usually regarded as one of her great films, but we shall see.

It is very loosely a sequel to Here Comes Mr Jordan. Very very loosely. Down to Earth in turn apparently inspired the 1980 movie Xanadu (although I’ve never seen Xanadu so I don’t know how much of a connection there really is).

Here Comes Mr Jordan (based on the play Heaven Can Wait) deals with guardian angels and could rather tenuously be regarded be regarded as dealing with vaguely Christian themes. Throwing in pagan goddesses could be considered to be a daring move, or a foolhardy move (or possibly even blasphemous!) but audiences were used to Hollywood’s propensity for hopelessly jumbling up every subject it touched. It does make the plot completely absurd but it’s pretty absurd to begin with. Of course musicals have no need whatever for coherent plots so really it doesn’t matter at all.

Supernatural themes were quite popular in romantic comedies and musicals at the time. The premise of Down to Earth is that Broadway producer Danny Miller (Larry Parks) is putting on a show about the Muses and one of the actual muses, Terpsichore (Rita Hayworth), hears about it and is enraged that goddesses (or perhaps they’re actually demi-goddesses) should be treated in such a vulgar manner. She decides to come down to Earth to put a stop to this outrage.

Terpsichore manages, with great ease, to convince the show’s producer and star Danny Miller to cast her in the lead, as Terpsichore. She renames herself Kitty Pendleton and acquires kindly rather scatter-brained low-rent agent Max Corkle (James Gleason).

The problem is that Miller wants to appeal to the taste of the public (a taste that is beyond the comprehension of a goddess) while Terpsichore wants the show to be art. He wants vulgar cheerfulness while she wants seriousness and class. She manages to persuade him to completely rewrite the show and of course she then discovers that the public doesn’t want art, it wants cheerful vulgarity.

Terpsichore also arouses the hostility of Danny’s buddy and co-star Eddie (Marc Platt) although I must confess I have no idea why except that presumably it was felt that this hostility would add some spice to the story.

The songs are not all that fantastic. At best they’re adequate.

On the other hand the script does have some decent gags and the love story (I’m sure you won’t be surprised that Terpsichore and Danny fall in love) is handled reasonably well.

I’m not quite sure about Larry Parks. He’s not terrible, he’s an adequate enough leading man, he just doesn’t seem to have any real charisma. The chemistry with Hayworth is perhaps not all it could be.

Roland Culver takes over the rôle of Mr Jordan (played by Claude Rains in Here Comes Mr Jordan) and he does a fine job. Edward Everett Horton adds some fun (as he invariably does) as the ever-pessimistic heavenly messenger 7013.

The one massive selling point of this movie is Rita Hayworth. She looks gorgeous and her performance sparkles. She gets to do plenty of dancing and she gets to do some actual acting and she does both with style.

This is certainly a movie that looks good. It was shot in Technicolor and the budget was clearly fairly generous (by Columbia standards anyway). Some of the musical numbers are quite bizarre.

Down to Earth does at times get a bit ambitious, venturing into the dangerous waters of satire. It tries, in a low-key way, to satirise the vulgarity of popular culture and also the pomposity of high culture. Of course since it’s a Hollywood movie we’re never going to doubt that it will come down solidly on the side of enjoyable vulgarity.

The Region 4 DVD which I have is barebones but it’s a nice transfer with vibrant colours.

Down to Earth would have benefited from slightly better songs but overall it’s a fine effort with a touching love story and with Rita Hayworth in fine form. Harmless, lightweight but entertaining. Recommended.

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