Down to Earth (1947) / Musical-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably G, suitable for all audiences
Running Time: 101 min.
Cast: Rita Hayworth, Larry Parks, Roland Culver, Marc Platt, James Gleason, Edward Everett Horton, Adele Jergens
Director: Alexander Hall
Screenplay: Edward Blum, Don Hartman
Down to Earth, the 1947 follow up to the 1941 film Here Comes Mr. Jordan, is more notorious nowadays as the inspiration for the much maligned 1980 musical, Xanadu, though the two films differ quite substantially. It's basically just a vehicle to showcase the beauty and talent of its star, Rita Hayworth (Gilda, Lady from Shanghai), and if you're a fan, it's an amiable enough watch, even if the songs aren't strong, and the story even less so.
Hayworth stars as Terpsichore, a Greek goddess, one of the nine muses, specializing in song and dance. After witnessing, from the heavens, a play bearing a character based on her, she wants to head to Earth to correct the many inconsistencies and factual errors in the production, as well as the demeaning way in which she and her sisters are being depicted. Mr. Jordan, heaven's steward, (Culver, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp) grants her wish, but only if she goes there as a human in disguise, as he also has a vested interest in the play -- it turns out that the success of the play will ultimately determine whether its main writer, director and star, Danny Miller (Parks, The Jolson Story), will live or die. She adopts the name of showgirl Kitty Pendleton, and steals the lead role of "herself", Terpsichore, and uses a mutual attraction between herself and Danny to try to make modifications to his play, for the better, or so she thinks.
Appropriately enough for such a grossly commercial vehicle, Down to Earth is little more than paying respect to audience-pleasing entertainment, snubbing its nose at anything artistic, intelligent, or of historical merit. Terpsichore thinks she is helping the play by changing its bad lyrics and cartoonish characterizations, but only ends up making audiences snooze from the highbrow nature of it. While this would be a great subject for a satire on the dumbing-down of art for the sake of the pursuit of money, the script by Blum (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) and Hartman (Road to Morocco) plays it completely straight. I'd like to think they were victims of irony, imagining that the studio didn't think audiences would understand such incisive commentary and told them to just make it fun and frothy. The film, much like the play it initially lampoons, suffers from the same wallowing in mediocrity to put a smile on the faces of those who come to snap their fingers rather than think. It's hard to expect highbrow satire when the film's version of Terpsichore and the muses is just as silly and "disrespectful" as the play they are insulted by.
For all of its thumbing its nose at those artsy critics who can't stand mass appeal entertainment, the song and dance numbers are lively and engaging, especially when Hayworth (whose singing is dubbed in by Anita Ellis) is front and center. Lavish sets and costumes also add to the visual appeal. However, the energy and tone of the film dissipates about halfway through, when Terpsichore gets her wish of putting on the production the way she sees fit, followed by the deadly discovery that Danny's life may come to an end should the play not be successful. The ensuing murder plot feels out of place with the fluffiness of the rest of the story, and then it goes for broke through a supposedly happy ending that suggests that a goddess who has inspired great many talented and important artists would be perfectly happy spending the rest of eternity as the main squeeze of a two-bit showman with little more than dollar signs in his eyes. It's not surprising he'd get the goddess, given that the film itself appears to have been made by men cobbling together an assembly-line musical like Danny himself would write.
©2007 Vince Leo