Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rita Hayworth and Raj Kapoor

A few nights ago my partner and I watched Down To Earth (1947), a musical sequel to Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941). The title Down To Earth is apt: the movie is indeed kept firmly earthbound by its inert leading man, Larry Parks, who couldn't sing or dance. However, the real star of the movie is Rita Hayworth in all her Technicolor glory. She was then at the peak of her popularity, just coming off the triumph of Gilda (1946), and having a few years earlier starred opposite Fred Astaire in You'll Never Get Rich (1941) and You Were Never Lovelier (1942), and opposite Gene Kelly in Cover Girl (1944). As her partnering with Astaire and Kelly suggests Hayworth certainly could dance, although in most of her movies, including this one, her singing voice was dubbed by Anita Ellis.

In Down To Earth Hayworth plays the muse Terpsichore, goddess of dance. She's offended by Broadway director Danny Miller (Parks) and his comic musical about two Air Force pilots who crash-land on Mt. Parnassus and then have to fend off the advances of the man-hungry Muses. So she descends from Parnassus, joins the cast of the show, and tries to change it to make it suitably reverent, with dismal results.

Terpsichore's complaint about Miller's original version of the musical is that it portrays the Muses in an unflattering light. You be the judge: here is the play's (and the movie's) first number, "The Nine Muses":

In this play-within-the-movie, Terpsichore is portrayed by Adele Jergens and voiced by the amazing Kay Starr. By the way, the red-haired pilot is Marc Platt.

This number segues into a scene on Mount Parnassus, where the real Muses have gathered to hear Terpsichore's complaints. And this is where I began to notice some visual parallels between Down to Earth and Raj Kapoor's Awāra (1951).

As I showed in an earlier post on Awāra, it has many parallels to the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel, including Raj's central dream / vision / nightmare of heaven and hell. That sequence also seems to draw on Down to Earth for some of its imagery.

There's the man prostrated on the steps of the goddesses' temple:

Down to Earth
There's the vision of the temple among the clouds:

Even some of the choreographic gestures seem similar:

Awara, despite the occasional dissent from carping critics like me, has become one of the most acclaimed films in Hindi cinema. Down To Earth has followed a reverse trajectory: although a hit at the time, it has faded into relative obscurity. But even though its script and leading man are weak, Down To Earth is worth seeing for its musical numbers (by Doris Fisher with lyrics by Allan Roberts), for its savage Martha Graham parody, and especially for Hayworth, who transcends the material through sheer star power.


  1. Ok, I think you just solved the little mystery of my own deja vu with Awaara! I'm sure other films have done some similar shots like the one on the temple steps, but I actually have seen the Terpsichore movie (I thought it was called something "Muse," but apparently not). I probably saw it a dozen years ago, and I'm pretty sure I saw it mostly because the subject matter was unusual and it seemed appropriate for Rita H. to be playing a goddess of sorts :) Up till now, the only scene could even vaguely recall was the foggy dance sequence in the temple pictured above. Seems to me that the story concept was better than the execution, but it's been so long that I probably shouldn't make any judgments.

    If Raj was "inspired" by the scene above, however, more power to him, because that sequence in Awaara was unforgettable . . . while, like you said, Down to Earth only seems to remain in the minds of classic musical buffs and former-TCM junkies ;) Also, *amused* by the "unflattering light" opinion. Personally, I don't think that the chopped-at-the-hip strappy Greek ware did the dancers any favors, but I kinda like the fruity headdresses.

    1. I love the jazzy "Muses" number, not only for Kay Starr's vocal channeling of Ella Fitzgerald and Adele Jergen's sassy charm, but for Allan Robert's lyrics, whose gleeful name-checks include high, low, and everything in-between. How often has "Nietzsche" been rhymed with "Don Ameche"?

      The fruity headdresses are (I think) supposed to represent the allegiance of the Muses to Dionysus, although in antiquity the Muses were considered to be followers of Apollo. But they're also carrying lyres, Apollo's symbol, so perhaps the costume designer wanted it both ways.

      You're right to point out as well that whatever elements Raj Kapoor borrowed (and transformed) in making Awara went into the creation of one of the most visually striking films ever, a claim that, even taking the goddess-like beauty of Rita Hayworth into account, will never be made for Down To Earth.

      Thanks for your comment!