Hollywood's most beautiful leading ladies are often referred to as "goddesses", and in "Down to Earth" one of those ladies, Rita Hayworth, gets a chance to play a goddess in the literal sense. Her contemporary Ava Gardner was also to play a goddess in "One Touch of Venus" from the following year.
Danny Miller is a Broadway producer putting on a musical called "Swingin' the Muses". Yes, it's just as bad as it sounds. The plot revolves around a pair of Air Force pilots who crash on Mount Parnassus, the legendary home of the Nine Muses, the Ancient Greek goddesses of the arts. Now theatrical productions can occasionally cause offence to various sections of the population, but Miller's does so in a quite unexpected quarter. The offended party is the Muse Terpsichore herself, the goddess of dance, who is annoyed that Miller's story depicts her as a "man-hungry trollop". She descends to Earth in order to put him right.
Now descending to Earth is not as easy for a goddess as one might think. In order to do so Terpsichore needs assistance from a being known as Mr. Jordan, originally a character in a play called "Heaven Can Wait" which had been adapted for the cinema as "Here Comes Mr. Jordan". (There is no connection with Ernst Lubitsch's film "Heaven Can Wait"). Although he is not referred to as such in the film, Jordan is a psychopomp, a spirit charged with ushering the souls of the dead into the next world, in this case by flying them there in an airliner. He can also ferry immortal beings in the opposite direction, and it is through his good offices that Terpsichore arrives in New York. Once there, using the name Kitty Pendleton, she auditions for, and wins, the star part in Miller's show.
The next development is pretty predictable; Danny falls in love with the supposed "Kitty", never suspecting that she is anything other than a beautiful young actress. Terpsichore takes advantage of his infatuation to rewrite his show, turning it from a vulgar piece of razzamatazz into a highbrow ballet. This proves to be a disaster. The only people who like the new production are a group of pretentious "longhairs"; everyone else loathes it. (The word "longhair" appears to have been an American expression for an intellectual culture-vulture, and could be used even about people who did not literally have long hair). This means that Danny has serious problems. If the show is a failure, he stands to lose more than his money. His main backer is a gangster who has threatened to kill him if the show flops. So how can he bring his show back "down to earth", win back the public and retain "Kitty's" affections, all without getting himself shot?
With a nonsensical plot, a weak leading man in Larry Parks and so-so song and dance numbers, "Down to Earth" could have been an even bigger flop than Danny's production threatens to be. The one thing that saves it is the presence of the lovely Rita. I don't mean that she gives her greatest acting performance; great acting demands a good script, something which this film conspicuously lacks. What Rita brings to the film is not technical acting skills but something rather different, that indefinable star quality which she possessed in spades, combined with her undoubted talent as a dancer. (Like some other dancing actresses- Cyd Charisse is another who comes to mind- was less talented as a singer, and her singing voice was here dubbed). There is also a decent contribution from Roland Culver as Jordan.
The film's take on culture, namely that lowbrow kitsch is always preferable in the eyes of the Great American Public to anything with cultural pretensions, reminded me of another film from a few years later, namely the Fred Astaire vehicle "The Band Wagon". Personally, I found that the ballet sequences were about the only interesting part of "Down to Earth", but that probably means that I am an incorrigible longhair. Without Hayworth, the rest of the film would have been virtually unbearable. As it is, it serves as a record of one of Hollywood's greatest goddesses, and also of what lowbrow kitsch looked like seventy-odd years ago. 5/10