The Love Goddess

The Films of Rita Hayworth (Sony)

The latest box set from the Film Foundation’s “The Collector’s Choice” line of classic releases is the first to focus on a performer. It’s also the least essential of the offerings to date. The former Margarita Carmen Cansino, a dancer and model who worked her way up from bit parts and big screen window dressing, is more icon than actress. And while she appeared in a handful of timeless classics—think Only Angels Have Wings and The Lady From Shanghai, with a little Blood and Sand and Separate Tables tossed in—she was a supporting player three of those four and none of them are included in this set.

Put the blame on Mame, boys.

The five films here represent Hayworth the glamorous star, the films that give her top billing, starting with her first headlining turn as the girl next door nightclub dancer from Brooklyn who blossoms into a sexy screen siren after winning a photo contest in Cover Girl (1944). It’s hardly the best musical of its time but she’s supported by Gene Kelly (himself just getting started in Hollywood) and Phil Silvers and original songs by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin as well as gorgeous Technicolor photography.

Her most iconic role as a silver screen siren is Gilda (1946), the flirtatious bombshell who mercilessly (and sadistically) teases the bodyguard (tough guy Glenn Ford) of her crippled sugar daddy husband (George Macready). Director Charles Vidor is no stylist—he misses every opportunity at atmosphere and stylization and mishandles the young Glenn Ford something terrible as he tries to play the not-too-bright American tough guy hustling his way through South America—but the film has its moments. Hayworth’s sudden yet glorious entrance is pure Hollywood starmaking, a perfectly lit close-up as she whips her head into frame, her hair lashing back and revealing her bright face and wide, mischievous grin. She’s a girl playing a game that she still enjoys, namely being married to a sugar daddy, and she plays it well, slinking around the dance floor, laughing with a new pretty boy on her arm, to make former beau Ford squirm with her sexual indelicacies and affairs. She’s a sex kitten with attitude and a suggestion of claws. Ford doesn’t get any better as his character develops but there’s something perverse in the way he turns completely vicious and marries Gilda to “punish” her for her sins (cheating on husband/boss George Macready or not being with Ford?). Given all this sexual warfare, the happily ever after is pure fantasy: After what these two have done to each other, how can they come back together?

Both of these films have been on DVD before but are remastered for this set, which is filled out with the DVD debuts of Tonight and Every Night (1945), Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) and Salome (1953). Film critic and historian Richard Schickel contributes an observant commentary track for Gilda with a relaxed ease and there are video introductions to four of the films: Director Baz Luhrmann on Cover Girl, Martin Scorsese and Baz Lurhmann on Gilda and actress Patricia Clarkson on Tonight and Every Night and Miss Sadie Thompson.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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