Now available at You Tube and on DVD, I had no idea that Rita Hayworth starred in this lavish fun Technicolor Fox musical during her physical peak. Handsome personable hunk Victor Mature got to pursue both Rita and Betty Grable in 3 Fox musicals in '42! Apparently having no musical talent, here he portrays a slimmed down version of chubby Gay '90s song writer and theatrical performer Paul Dresser, in one of Fox's many nostalgic-themed musicals of this era. The singing of both Rita and Mature was, as usual, dubbed, which downgrades their credibility as musical performers, but doesn't materially impact their charisma as all around actors. Fox departed from its dominant star formula for musicals during this era, in casting Rita, borrowed from Columbia, as the sole female musical star. Thus, Rita gets to sing and dance in quite a few on and off-stage numbers. Meanwhile, Mature sometimes sang while playing the piano or banjo. True, his supposed playing of two pianos at once looks as fake as it was.
Mature's highly romanticized Dresser begins as a young man who runs away from home to avoid preparing for the ministry, and to begin a career as a musical performer and song writer. He hooks up with a crooked traveling minstrel, getting tarred and feathered when the crowd figures out they have been swindled. He is rescued by the flirtatious female companion(played by Carol Landis) of a traveling patent medicine salesman, and joins their entertainment show to attract customers. All this early part is loosely based on fact. Dresser did run away from his dictatorial father, and his minstrel employer did run away, at one point, leaving broke Dresser to pay their bills. He did later work for a patent medicine show, selling Hamlin's rather famous 'wizard oil'.
The 3 women portrayed as being romantically involved with Dresser are all fictional. Apparently, Dresser never married, although he had numerous affairs with women, including prostitutes. Reputedly, the Sal in his well received "My Gal Sal", was in reference to a previous lover: the madam of an Indiana brothel. In the film he didn't compose it until near the end, when it serves as the centerpiece of Rita's final stage performance and his excuse to rekindle their on-the-rocks romance. Phil Silvers doesn't show up until toward the end, when he plays a devious role in getting Dresser and Rita(Sally) back together.
British actor John Sutton plays Rita's rather stuffy manager and apparent fiancé throughout the film. With his initial adversarial relationship with the established musical star Sally, and his periodic escapades with the aggressive married Countess Rossini, it's an uphill battle for Mature to nose out the cultured handsome Sutton as Rita's 'significant other'. For some reason, Hollywood chose to typecast the likable, athletic, Sutton as 'the other man': sometimes a villain,or sometimes, as in the present film and the previous "Yank in the R.A.F.", just the eventual loser. In "Hudson Bay", he did play the romantic lead, to Paul Muni's and Liard Cregar's dramatic coleads, and is my favorite film role for him. As someone else pointed out, based solely on his girth, Cregar presented a much more realistic physical representation of Dresser than did Mature!
Why do I refer to Mature's character as 'Jack the Ripper' in my review title? At one point, he sarcastically identified himself as such after being jailed for shredding Rita's wardrobe, after she had entered his adjacent apartment and done the same. This was her reaction to an intercepted invitation from Countess Rossini
Several songs by Dresser are featured, but the only two that are likely to appeal somewhat to modern audiences are the title song and "On the Banks of the Wabash", which made him a millionaire, by today's standards. Based on the amount of sheet music sold, the latter was the second most popular song in the US in the 19th century! Unfortunately, the new century would not be kind to Dresser. Like Stephen Foster, his career would nose dive, and he would die penniless in NYC, far from his Indiana home....In addition, the team of Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin contributed several original songs(which I like better than Dresser's!), the best being "On the Gay White Way", "Oh, the Pity of it All", and "Me and my Fella and a Big Umbrella". Unfortunately, Rainger would die that year in a plane collision. He and Robin also composed most of the new songs for Betty Grable's big hit released the following year : "Coney Island". Lacking her former film dancer, Fred Astaire, famous choreographer Hermes Pan served as Rita's dance partner for part of the production number to "On the Gay White Way".
Poor Carol Landis, as Mae, after serving as Mature's rescuer and presumably lover for a while, gets left behind after Mature is attracted by the challenge of changing Rita's attitude toward him from very negative to positive. Unfortunately, this would be the story of her life, both as an actress and as a romantic partner, except for her many USO appearances, instigating her suicide before age 30.