Gene Kelly assumed virtual monarchy of the Hollywood dance with his animated cartoon sequence in "Anchors Aweigh." "Yolanda and the Thief" marks the formal abdication of Mr. Astaire.
Seldom has a motion picture of such grandiose pretensions violated so many axioms of good cinema. Fantasy is played utterly straight; consistently inappropriate tone is aggravated by dialogue flat, childish; top talent and lavish Technicolor are squandered.
What was very winning make-believe in the hands of Bemelmans meets massacre in Irving Brecher's screenplay. The story concerns a lovely girl in a mythical land, convent-educated, who inherits millions and turns to her guardian angel for guidance through the maze of worldly wickedness she faces. It is a theme with light beauty, ethereal delicacy; for theatrical success, it would have to be handled with theatrical kid gloves. Brecher quite misses the boat. The story appears ridiculous as well as incredible and it is told in lines maudlin beyond imagination. Treated as fragile fancy, the nonsense may have been ingratiating; mugged by Astaire, Frank Morgan, and Mildred Natwick, it is nauseating.
The spectacle of Astairs gracelessly leaping through excessively arty routines, overwhelmed by colossal settings, is hardly peasant. And those who saw Miss Natwick as Madame Arcati in "Blithe Spirit" will not exactly enjoy the Zazu Pitts-ish drivel she must toss to the 35 cent seats. ssh