Terpsichore is one of the nine mythological Greek muses, and she’s come down to earth to help a hunky man achieve success in an entertainment endeavor.
If this plot sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Down to Earth, this 1947 film starring Rita Hayworth as Terpsichore, served as an inspiration for the 1980 Olivia Newton-John/Gene Kelly so-bad-it’s-freaking-great musical film, Xanadu.
If you love Xanadu, I’m sure you’ve stopped reading this post and are running around attempting to track down the film that inspired such a masterpiece. If you hate bad movies like Xanadu, don’t let that stop you from enjoying Down to Earth, because the films are nowhere near identical.
Rather than roller-skating out of a wall to meet her man, Hayworth’s Terpsichore simply floats down to Earth and enters the theater where Danny Miller (Larry Parks) is rehearsing his new musical show. She wants to fix the show because she doesn’t like the cheap and vulgar way that it portrays the muses.
Weaseling her way onto the stage, Terpsichore impresses Danny and quickly replaces the actress who was supposed to play Terpsichore. Pretending that her name is Kitty Pendelton – and with the help of Max Corkle (an agent, portrayed by James Gleason), Messenger 7013 (portrayed by Edward Everett Horton) and Mr. Jordan (portrayed by Roland Culver) – Terpsichore cons Danny into changing the show.
Alexander Hall directs this odd delight of a musical, written by Edwin Blum and Don Hartman. The film utilizes a number of characters from 1941’s Here Comes Mr. Jordan.
The premise of Down to Earth is more than a little bit ridiculous, but in the best possible way. The film somewhat predictable, but this isn’t a huge problem since the performances are solid and the story has an air of mythological excitement. Not everything is happy-go-lucky. There are moments of tension, especially near the film’s bittersweet ending – but in general, Down to Earth‘s spirits are high.
Though centered around a stage production, the film never feels too stagnant. A variety of camera angles are used in the scenes that directly feature the “Swinging Muses” play. We, as viewers of the film, don’t see what an audience watching the production in person would see but this works because it adds visual appeal to the film and keeps it from getting too stagey.
Rita is wonderful in her leading role. The material is pretty silly, but she gives it her all and pulls off a near-perfect performance, drawing the viewer into the completely unrealistic fantasy tale. On top of that, she looks as beautiful as ever and her dance numbers are very fun to watch (though she doesn’t do her own singing – the songs are dubbed by Anita Ellis, who has a lovely voice).
While Rita is most certainly the star of the show, the supporting players are also very good. James Gleason as the agent is a favorite. I haven’t seen the film in which he originated the role of Max Corkle, but his experience with the character just makes him that much more believable, and he stands out among the many men who surround Rita in this film.
Down to Earth is a cute, fun and very energetic musical. It’s well worth watching for Rita’s wonderful performance alone, but any fan of fantastical musicals should enjoy it. The score: 4/5