Supposedly based on the life of songwriter Paul Dresser, My Gal Sal is heavily fictionalized—so much so, that half of Dresser’s songs in the film were actually written by Fox songwriters Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger. Yet the historical inaccuracies are largely inconsequential in the face of its creepy central romance and tedious musical numbers.
Dresser (Victor Mature) leaves home to pursue his career goal of becoming a musician, and ends up working with star Sally Elliott (Rita Hayworth). He writes the tunes, she the music, and together they churn out hit after hit. But Dresser wants more than just a creative partnership, despite Elliott having no interest—until Dresser coerces her, and then she magically falls in love.
That Elliott would ever change her mind about Dresser is wildly unconvincing—made more so by how unattractive Mature is. Even more shocking: despite their complete lack of chemistry onscreen, Hayworth and Mature actually had an affair during filming.1 Their romance in the film has none of the charm of other real-life screen couples like Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, but instead enforces the nasty, pervasive idea that “no doesn’t really mean no.”
The rest of the film is never able to wash away the unpleasantness of the romance. James Gleason adds an occasional laugh as Dresser’s publisher; but for the most part, the cast falls as flat as the musical numbers, which are mainly stagebound and extremely repetitive. Though Gwen Wakeling’s costumes look gorgeous in Technicolor, shot by cinematographer Ernest Palmer, the numbers remain numbingly dull.
Any film with Mature playing a supposedly charming leading man is doomed from the start. At least a film like The Shanghai Gesture somewhat acknowledges his creepiness; laughably, My Gal Sal sells him as desirable to every woman he meets. It is a misstep the film never recovers from, one that renders an already mediocre musical downright unpleasant.
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|1.||^||Roger Fristoe, “My Gal Sal,” Turner Classic Movies, accessed March 6, 2017.|