Film critic and historian Arthur Knight considered "Cover Girl" the second best musical ever made after "Singing In The Rain". Frankly, he may have a point. ("The Bandwagon" is, for my money, the only other serious contender). Though not often shown on the usual cable suspects (can't imagine why but the Columbia library seems to me quite seriously underplayed), "Cover Girl" remains vivid in my memory for a number of reasons, cheif among them that it is the first musical in which Kelly was given some creative control over his material and it shows. The results, of course, were immesurably better than his first few MGM outings and when he returned from this loan-out, Louis B. Mayer has the good sense to allow Kelly considerably more creative leeway than any other actor/performer on the lot had ever had.
"Cover GIrl" co-stars Rita Hayworth at her lovliest and a pre-Bilko Phil Silvers. The lovely songs are by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin ("Long Ago And Far Away" was the hit but "Sure Thing" is my favorite) and it was directed by Charles Vidor, a director who has never stood out from the crowd but who, astonishingly, has three superb credits--all of which still hold up beautifully. (The others beside "CG" are "Gilda" and the excellent James Cagney/Doris Day Ruth Etting biopic "Love Me Or Leave Me". There are many more famous directors than Vidor who can't quite match that many high quality well-remembered credits.) Having said that, Vidor did not handle the musical numbers in "Cover Girl"--which puts him a little bit in the William Wyler "Ben-Hur" bin (Wyler shot everything BUT the chariot race, the only actual reason to see the picture.) For the musical sequences, Kelly brought on the very young Stanley Donen, who would later co-direct with Kelly "On The Town", "Singing In The Rain" and the lovely and mournful "It's Always Fair Weather". Below is the astonishing "Alter Ego" number--certainly a first in terms of marrying special effects and dance.
I had the good fortune to be asked to interview Donen for the Directors Guild's Oral History program and naturally I asked him how the hell this number was done. He launched into an explaination--and Donen is nothing if not an articulate and engaging speaker--but, as soon as he did, the cameraman recording the interview started making nervous gestures to another techie as if to indicate that something was wrong. I kept glancing over to see if we needed to halt things as Donen kept describing the complicated process of planning and filming this number. In my fear that we weren't getting this on tape, I lost focus and nodded absently, pretending to listen, all the while glancing over to make sure we were getting it. In the end, there was no problem and, once Donen was finished, I lied with gusto and said "Fascinating!" or somesuch. For reasons known only to them, the Directors Guild keeps the Special Projects interview tapes locked in a dark vault, inaccessible to just about everybody. So, despite being the official DGA sanctioned interviewer of Stanley Donen, I still can't tell you how they accomplished the below bit of genius. Maybe it ultimately doesn't really matter.