“Tonight and Every Night” (1945) might be Rita Hayworth’s most underrated film and arguably her best musical. This is not a slight against the two marvelous films she made with Fred Astaire, or “Cover Girl” (1944) with Gene Kelly. I love them all.
But the urgent wartime setting of “Tonight and Every Night” trumps the previous films. Their plots are standard musicals with comedy and conventional love stories. In “Tonight and Every Night” the characters are responsible for a city’s morale, and the love story may not last beyond the next evening.
Filmed in beautiful Technicolor, “Tonight and Every Night” is set during World War II at the Music Box Theater in London. Despite nearly nightly bombing raids, the theater never closed its doors or missed a performance. The Music Box here is inspired on the real-life Windmill Theater. More about that later.
Rita Hayworth plays an American showgirl from St. Louis named Rosalind Bruce, a wise move since no English accent was required. Her best friend is fellow showgirl Judy Kane (Janet Blair) and it’s very refreshing to a see a genuine friendship in a movie like this, and a rarity in the Hayworth canon. Rosalind and Judy are supportive of each other through the whole movie, so there are no tiresome scenes of them fighting over the same man or angling for more solo numbers onstage at the expense of the other.
While London burns, the troupe at the Windmill continues on. To keep the show going, the girls move into the theater’s basement. The lights remain on as a grateful city pours into the theater to see the show.
The film is loaded with terrific numbers, and a good song score by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn. Both toiled for years writing songs for “B” musicals at Columbia and Republic. Here, they got the plum assignment of writing for one of the biggest stars of the era, and they turned in a wonderful score. The lovely ballad “Always” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song but lost to Rodgers and Hammerstein for “It Might as Well Be Spring” from “State Fair.” Marlin Skiles and Morris Stoloff were nominated for their Musical Direction duties, but lost to Georgie Stoll for “Anchors Aweigh.”
You may think you don’t know “Always” but if you’ve seen any Columbia movies from the 1940s and 1950s you’ll recognize it as it was used as source music for radios and nightclub scenes in dozens of movies, including “Gilda.”
All the songs are performed onstage, which makes sense, though there is a brief scene where the cleaning women and a stagehand sing the film’s title song as they are working. I thought it was a mistake for director Victor Saville to include this short scene, as it (slightly) takes us out of the movie. Because so far it’s not a traditional musical (characters breaking out into song) it seemed a little incongruous.
"Tonight and Every Night” gave us the film debut of dancer Marc Platt. Looking like Ross Alexander’s younger brother, Platt should have had a much bigger career than he did. He has a terrific scene where he auditions for the troupe by performing a series of impromptu dance routines to what is on the radio, even dancing to one of Hitler’s speeches.
Rita was at the peak of her beauty when she made “Tonight and Every Night” and she positively glows in her musical numbers. A professional dancer since she was a little girl, she loved dancing and when she smiles it seems genuine. It looks like she’s having a blast.
If there’s one major fault in the film, it’s Rita’s wardrobe. For a simple showgirl in war-time London, she dresses off stage like a million bucks. In one scene when she comes in to the theater, she’s wearing a fur and jewel ensemble that looks like it cost the GDP of a small country.
Another fault is a pretty painful comedy routine by the xylophone playing Professor Lamberti, who plays The Great Waldo, a one time vaudeville star who now toils as a stagehand. Rather than postpone the show by a half hour The Great Waldo offers to do his old routine. It seems to go on for days. This was the good Professor’s only screen credit and it’s easy to see why.
(Speaking of sparse screen credits, Stephen Crane plays Leslie, one of Paul’s flight comrades. Yep, Lana Turner’s second husband appears in a few scenes here. He appeared in only three movies before going into the restaurant business).
The ending is a sad one, showing that war doesn’t spare even the most innocent. But the troupe carries on. They have a serious patriotic duty to perform, even if only to give a few hour’s relief to visiting servicemen and war-weary Londoners.
As I said earlier, the Music Box is based on the real life Windmill Theater. Not only did the Windmill never close its doors, but was equally well known for its onstage nudity. Because London’s censorship boards didn’t object to nudity in statues, the Windmill’s owners had the girls perform nude as living statues (i.e. no movement). The story of the Windmill was told in “Mrs. Henderson Presents” (2005) starring Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins.
“Tonight and Every Night” is a genuine pleasure. It may not be as known today due to its lack of a leading man on the scale of an Astaire, Kelly or Glenn Ford, but it deserves to be better known. I’m happy to have the opportunity to champion it.