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|
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.