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The underrated and somewhat obscure Tonight and Every Night (1945) is based on a play called Heart of the City, about how London's famous Windmill Theater stayed open throughout the Blitz of WWII. (This is a tale also covered in the 2005 film Mrs. Henderson Presents as well as the tawdry Secrets of a Windmill Girl (1966) starring Pauline Collins.) The theater is here called the Music Box because of copyright issues pertaining to the Windmill name, but in every other regard, it's the Windmill. Rita Hayworth top-lines as a dancer who falls in love with an RAF pilot while two of her fellow dancers (Marc Platt and Janet Blair) fall in love with one another. This musical drama departs from formula, however, leading to a downbeat and more interesting finale than is the norm for such films.
The movie looks great, thanks to superb technicians behind the scenes. The cameraman, for instance, is Rudolph Mate, whose luminous photography graced movies such as Dodsworth (1936) and That Hamilton Woman (1941), and who later became a good director himself. The choreographer is Jack Cole, one of the best in the business, who a year later would be staging Hayworth's "Put the Blame on Mame" sequence in Gilda (1946, which incidentally was also shot by Rudolph Mate).
But Tonight and Every Night is first and foremost a Rita Hayworth vehicle. She made it between Cover Girl (1944) and Gilda, which means she is at the absolute peak of her physical beauty. Moreover, she is a dancing tour de force; while her singing voice is dubbed, her dancing is her own, and her sensual samba number "You Excite Me" is one of the best numbers she ever did. Helping matters, of course, was the aforementioned Jack Cole. As Columbia house composer Fred Karger later noted, "Rita realized how much [Cole] could help her and responded to him. Nothing is too much for her when she believes in somebody. She wasn't crazy about doing any more musicals - but Harry [Cohn] didn't give her a choice. Cole, however, managed to enthuse her."
Cole himself recalled that Hayworth never wasted her energies while working - "none of that sex between scenes or boozing at lunch," he said. "Rita was a lonely person, you always felt that about her. She'd sit around...mostly be herself, not stand-offish, just lonely. But always a lady...Rita's problem was that everybody mistook her for Rita Hayworth, MOVIE STAR - when actually she was just a dancing gypsy girl who could have been very happy working in a chorus, happily married to some average-type husband who wanted a nice female lady, which she is."
Cole also said, "She did not have a good figure, but she has beautiful breasts, beautiful arms and the most beautiful hands in show business...As a young woman she was always a much more beautiful person than she photographed, 'cause they did really icky Columbia make-up for star ladies, with that too hard glossy mouth."
Costume designer Jean Louis, who dressed Hayworth for the first time on this film, said simply, "She had a good body. It wasn't difficult to dress her...She worked very hard. Often she would arrive for fittings from dance rehearsals and her feet still bleeding. But she never complained or refused to do anything... She also had a belly then, but we could hide that. That's what my job was." Hayworth was married to Orson Welles at the time and was pregnant with their daughter Rebecca, and as filming went on, Louis indeed had to think of creative ways to mask the pregnancy. The two became lifelong friends and collaborators.
Choreographer Cole actually dances with Rita on screen in this movie, in a number called "What Does an English Girl Think of a Yank?" He stepped in when the scheduled male dancer sprained his ankle. Cole was unprepared for Hayworth's intensity: "So I rehearse with Rita a couple of times and we're ready to start. Well, baby, I don't know what hit me when they turned the camera on... When it was for real, it was like 'Look out!' Suddenly this mass of red hair comes hurtling at me, and it looked like ninety times more teeth than I ever saw in a woman's mouth before and more eyes rolling, and was the most animated object ever."
Hayworth's star power continued to make a big impression. Variety' review was practically a primer on screen stardom: "In Rita Hayworth, Columbia has a protagonist of musicals second to none in the industry. Herein she exerts her full charms as a dancer and as a glamorous person, bedecked with whatever costumes and Technicolor photographic bedizements she might additionally need. Her simulated singing is also done with rare skill. She has also, more than any female star, the power to convince an audience that she is actually in love with the person designated for that enviable spot in the script - a romantic sincerity which gives her scenes genuine passion and emotion."
The movie even scored two Oscar® nominations. Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn's "Anywhere" was nominated for Best Song, losing to Rodgers and Hammerstein's "It Might as Well Be Spring" from State Fair (1945), and Marlin Skiles and Morris Stoloff's score was also nominated but lost to Anchors Aweigh (1945). The picture did OK but was not a major hit, and none of the songs ever really caught on with the public. Fred Karger reasoned that "it was because of the story. They took a very strong dramatic story with the war as background, bombs falling, somebody even died, and they used this for a musical premise." Sammy Cahn, on the other hand, noted that since the songs were dubbed, it was difficult to promote them. He also joked, "We worked for three hard years for Harry Cohn and wrote him all the hits he deserved - none."
One truly unique musical number is a dance performed by Marc Platt not to music but to a speech by Hitler. ("A showstopper," raved Variety.) Platt, making his film debut, was a talented dancer who went on to roles in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and Oklahoma! (1955), as well as much stage work. Also in the cast is Leslie Brooks, a beauty who top-lined "B" movies like I Love a Bandleader (1945) and Blonde Ice (1948), and also played secondary leads in "A" productions like this one.
Tonight and Every Night was produced and directed by Victor Saville, an Englishman who built quite an interesting career as writer, producer and director on both sides of the Atlantic. His producing credits include such classics as The Citadel (1938) and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) - both Oscar®-nominated - as well as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941), Keeper of the Flame (1942) and, as executive producer, Kiss Me Deadly (1955).
Of Rita Hayworth, Saville later wrote, "She was a product of the studios and took direction with trust and ease." He also recalled an incident involving a future star who at this time was merely a pretty girl playing an uncredited chorus girl named "Bubbles." The studio had imported a dozen models from New York to appear in Cover Girl, and Harry Cohn insisted that they be used again in this new picture; he wanted to get his money's worth. "One of the lovelies came to me," remembered Saville, "pleading to let her speak at least one line. As delicately as possible, I intimated I did not think she would ever speak a line in a film. I don't see her very often, but when I do I never fail to apologize to Shelley Winters and she most graciously never kicks me in the rear end."
Saville also explained, by the way, that it was OK to have an American cast of showgirls in the London setting because in reality there were lots of them in London performing during the war.
Tonight and Every Night was in production when news of the D-Day invasion broke on June 6, 1944. The English Saville and the Polish Mate broke down and cried. Work, however, continued on normally. "Harry [Cohn] didn't care," Saville later said. "He wasn't a European. He was making pictures."
Producer: Victor Saville
Director: Victor Saville
Screenplay: Abem Finkel, Lesser Samuels, Lesley Storm (play)
Cinematography: Rudolph Mate
Film Editing: Viola Lawrence
Art Direction: Lionel Banks, Stephen Goosson, Rudolph Sternad
Cast: Rita Hayworth (Rosalind Bruce), Lee Bowman (Paul Lundy), Janet Blair (Judy Kane), Marc Platt (Tommy Lawson), Leslie Brooks (Angela), Professor Lamberti (Fred).
by Jeremy Arnold
John Kobal, Rita Hayworth: Portrait of a Love Goddess
Roy Mosely, Victor Saville In His Own Words
Gene Ringgold, The Films of Rita Hayworth: The Legend & Career of a Love Goddess