BluRay/DVD Reviews

RITA HAYWORTH COLLECTION

By • Dec 26th, 2010 •

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My folks told me that if I’d been born a girl, my name would have been Rita. I was born during the earlier period in Ms. Hayworth’s career indicated above, when she was doing relatively innocuous musicals (COVER GIRL, YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH, etc) – not the later, noirish phase of GILDA and beyond. She was the number 2 pinup girl of World War II, and graced the cover of Life Magazine five times. I wonder if she was the inspiration for them choosing that moniker…?

This collection of Ms. Hayworth’s work is comprised of five films spanning the years 1944-1953. Much happened during that time which affected her career, her performances, and her image. A war had ended, and Film Noir grabbed many of the lighter-than-air stars like her and Dick Powell and turned them into dangerous, jaded creatures. She eloped with Orson Welles (1943). She divorced Orson Welles (1948). She married Prince Aly Khan (1949). She divorced Prince Aly Khan (1953). She got older.

This group of films has gone through a restoration process. Filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrman introduce them. Four of them were filmed in the Technicolor process, so even if the quality of the films themselves vary widely, the fact that they have been reborn, so to speak, deserves careful scrutiny.

COVER GIRL was directed by Charles Vidor. It bears a striking narrative resemblance to a far more grim film he made in the mid-fifties – LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, in which Doris Day is the singer/dancer, and James Cagney her abusive lover – almost a musical Noir. Here it’s Gene Kelly who frets about his relationship with her, and all he can muster is a stoic, passive-aggressive pout.

Rita dances, sings and acts well. It’s what she does with her arms, face and body between parts A & B of the dance moves that’s so endearing. It’s as if the rehearsals are momentarily left behind and a sweet, girlish joie de vivre takes over. She’s really lovable. Kelly, much less so, though his choreography is great, particularly in a brilliantly meticulous double-exposed dance sequence (75 minutes in) with himself dancing both roles. (And it takes place on the street – how Kelly loved dancing in the street.)

The color is accurate, and I guess carefully restored, but it isn’t Technicolor – though clearly it once was. Now it’s contrasty, with some mid-tones burnt out, though periodically it does feel like the real thing, and it holds the blacks really well. If they did their best, and this was the best they could do, then it’s certainly very good.

Musically speaking, it’s fifty minutes before the first stellar musical number appears, a duet with Rita and Kelly. Later, a montage/parade of real cover girls and their magazine covers is intriguing. One of them looks like Patty Hearst. Rita takes over in a very sexy gold lamé dress.

Vidor had a good narrative hand. He knows how to direct his actors’ emotions realistically, no matter the artifice of the story.

Luhrman, incidentally, refers to Rita a few times as ‘big,’ and implies that this affected her dancing. She was 5’6″.

Betty Grable was 5’4″.

Judy Garland was just under 5′.

Ginger Rodgers was 5’4″.

Cyd Charisse was 5’7″.

Leslie Caron was 5’1″.

Petula Clark was 5’2″.

Joan Crawford was 5’5″.

Ann Miller was 5’7″.

Eleanor Powell was 5’6″.

Betty Hutton was 5’4″.

Janis Paige was 5’5″.

Jane Powell was just over 5′.

Maybe in balance he had a point. I don’t see it.

TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT is distinguished by stunning color, including some unusual low-key lighting for a Technicolor effort. The subject is somber – music hall entertainers in WWII England during the blitz – and the lighting compliments it. SALOME and COVER GIRL are standard Technicolor, no matter how gorgeous. This one tries out some new hues from the Technicolor paint box, and goes out of its way in search of dark tableaus. Check 35:15 for glowing deep blues and oranges right out of a Maxfield Parish painting. The director of photography was Rudolph Maté (THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, VAMPYR, LILLIOM, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, COVER GIRL, GILDA, and [uncredited] THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI) but his work here looks like something Jack Cardiff would have conjured up.

Rita is adorable doing her dance routines. It’s fun spotting a succulent Shelley Winters among the entertainers. And Hayworth and Janet Blair singing and cavorting in pajamas is a cute treat for the eyes. The music, however, blends one song into the next, with no real winners amongst them.

“Every man I have ever known has fallen in love with Gilda and awakened with me” A famous Rita Hayworth quote.

Noir makes a virtue of subtext, since people aren’t what they seem. Richard Schickel, in his commentary for GILDA, insists that Glenn Ford and George Macready are the real love interest in the film, and that Hayworth is just a subterfuge, preening and oozing sexuality on the sidelines while they play out their subtextual game. Watching their interaction in the first act before she shows up – particularly the interplay with Macready’s cane-that-sprouts-a-sword, the idea becomes fun to contemplate. Again, the Macready character can be compared to the Cagney character in LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, and being older, more threatening, and filled with hatred, the match-up is even better than in COVER GIRL. It’s perverse that the object of his desire might be Glenn Ford – I don’t think Cagney would have stood for something like that…even as subtext. And Hayworth starred in five films with Ford. If she was just the ‘beard’, why all the encores? But all three films, again, are directed by Charles Vidor, so there’s something afoot there somewhere.

Schickel speculates relentlessly about the meanings of the film, about Columbia’s intentions with it, etc. He’s relaxed and fun, and less arrogantly dismissive than he’s been in a few of his other commentaries. He clearly prefers Hayworth in LADY FROM SHANGHAI, where he senses that her character goes more than skin deep.

Rudolph Maté reprises his role as DP, and both he and Vidor show completely different abilities here, easily adapting to the Noir style. In fact Maté later directed D.O.A., a Noir classic.

Baz Luhrman, in his intro, makes a point of explaining how he fashioned Nicole Kidman’s hair after Rita Hayworth’s in GILDA, only he had to go with a dozen quick-fitting wigs since his budget didn’t allow for hair touch-ups after each shot the way GILDA’s did.

The film was previously released solo on DVD, and contains the same three panels of restoration acknowledgements up front that it did earlier. However, in comparing the two, this release has been further cleaned up. Tons of speckles and debris have been removed. It’s the better print to have.

After SAMSON & DELILAH and before THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and BEN-HUR, SALOME goes for a sedate, reverent middle ground. Charles Laughton is lost, a rare thing to witness (though a constant complaint of his and of thesps he worked with over the span of his career). He moves his arms into odd configurations, presumably at director Dieterle’s suggestions, but doesn’t feel or believe in what he’s doing. Nor do we. The most effective performance, I’m surprised to see myself writing, comes from Stewart Granger. I believe him, and he’s got some light-but-tricky moods to portray. Alan Badel as John the Baptist…well, the art department hasn’t shed enough Hollywood glamour from his appearance, and I don’t care for the bug-eyed thing he does, but there are stirring moments of sincerity in his performance. Rita looks lovely, but she’s not a good fit as Salome, and doesn’t feel in any way of the period.

Given all that, the Technicolor restoration is worth the trip. There are maybe a dozen or so off-registration matrices shots. But the rest is drool-inducing gorgeous. You’ll be choking on the Hollywood blarney, and still have to keep it for the color.

Which leaves MISS SADIE THOMPSON. Good and bad, mainly bad. It’s an ugly-looking film. Shots vary from creamy to grainy, as if they were using rolls of film from different batches. Or perhaps the location heat affected the emulsion? It was . originally in 3D, and I’ve seen a print projected in that format at the Film Forum in NYC. Even with the glasses on, it looks pretty much the same – unattractive and utterly artless.

The direction is obvious and heavy-handed. Jean Louis takes his largest credit here for costumes – a full screen acknowledgment. (He also did COVER GIRL and GILDA.) But Rita looks dumpy. Which, I suppose, is appropriate for the faux-effervescent, over-the-hill hooker she portrays.

Jose Ferrer, slumming, with sprayed-on silver hair, is a nasty villain for a nasty-looking film. His character arc comes on so suddenly that I’m surprised he didn’t suffer whiplash. Aldo Ray, as an aggressive, possessive soldier, is frightening. He’s clearly a borderline psychotic who, if he finally ends up with her, will easily fall into spousal abuse. She has no happy fate awaiting her, no matter what route she takes away from that little island.

One positive note about MISS SADIE THOMPSON – ‘The Heat is On’ is a great number, well shot and particularly well acted by Hayworth. It’s that thing she does best – joyful abandon through song and dance (even though her voice was dubbed).

One last thing about this collection. It comes with an entreaty to donate to the Alzheimer’s Association, along with a postage-paid, pre-addressed envelope. I never remember seeing anything like this in a DVD collection before. Rita Hayworth was a victim of Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, and suffered with it for a few decades until her death, probably for a long while before they even realized what she was suffering from. The text is written by her daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan who, in 1984, founded the first annual Alzheimer’s Association Rita Hayworth Gala (which has raised millions of dollars thus far). It’s an informative insert, and a touching request in memory of her mother.

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