Wednesday, February 3, 2016

LIZ SMITH: There Never Was a Woman Like Gilda

Rita Hayworth "Put(ting) The Blame on Mame" as Gilda (1946).
by Liz Smith

There Never Was a Woman Like Gilda — Or a Love Goddess Like Rita Hayworth! Criterion DVD restores a classic Film Noir.

"WOULD you like to dance?"

"I'd love to."

"But your young man ...?"

"The young man would like it too, but he can't afford it."

So it went between Gerald Mohr (as Capt. Delgado) and Rita Hayworth (as Gilda). The "young man" — Glenn Ford as Johnny, sat, furious with jealousy, as Miss Hayworth, his ex-lover, and current trophy wife of his shady boss (George Macready) did the samba like no woman before or since.
Gerald Mohr and Rita Hayworth in "Gilda."
"GILDA" produced by Columbia Pictures was the pinnacle of Rita Hayworth's career as America's first and most ravishing "Love Goddess." She had been working in films since her teenage years, and was brought along slowly, carefully, as studios (wisely) did it back in the day.

Rita achieved genuine stardom with "Only Angels Have Wings" ... "Blood and Sand" ... "The Strawberry Blonde" ... "My Gal Sal" ... "Cover Girl" and her two exquisite musicals with Fred Astaire — "You Were Never Lovelier" and "You'll Never Get Rich."
Rita in 1942 in "You Were Never Lovelier."
But it was "Gilda" directed by Charles Vidor, drenched in paranoiac post-war noir pessimism and distrust of women, that tapped all of Hayworth's gifts — the sexuality, her dancing, her acting, her wanton way with a risqué line. The word "iconic" has become overused, but Rita was just that, and it didn't take years for the public to realize it. She was, forever after, Gilda, to millions.

Our friends at Criterion DVD have released a sparkling new high-definition version of "Gilda." Now, in luscious restoration, when Gilda, after performing her defiant "Put The Blame on Mame" number, asks some of the excited men in the nightclub audience to "help me with my zipper" it is even more startling and arousing — she is willing to be stripped, publicly!
Glenn Ford, watching this exhibition, pulls her off the dance floor; she shrieks, "Good, now they all know what I am, and that you've been taken. That Johnny Farrell married a" ... slap! Ford strikes her. But of course she looks great, her hair a mass of distressed waves, her famous Jean Louis strapless gown perilously close to sliding off her bosom.
The DVD includes audio commentary by Richard Schickel, along with essays and interviews with film historian Eddie Muller, directors Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann and a 1964 TV special "The Odyssey of Rita Hayworth." (This was an episode of the fondly remembered series, "Hollywood and the Stars.")
RITA Hayworth would make only two more films before leaving Hollywood to marry Prince Aly Kahn — the dreary but lavish "Down to Earth" in which she plays a the mythological goddess Terpsichore, and "The Loves of Carmen," where she brilliantly overcomes the ridiculous miscasting of Glenn Ford as her Spanish lover, Don Jose (another jealous type.) The final scene with Ford, is violent, intense and tragic — Carmen is unrepentant for all the trouble she has caused. She is anxious only to see the bullfights — and the hot new toreador. ("Don't hang on me! I can't stand it when anybody hangs onto me!" she screams.) "Carmen" shows what Rita might have done with better dramatic material, in her prime.
Rita with with Glenn Ford in "The Loves of Carmen" (1948).
I have always considered Rita not just a great, great beauty (that perfect profile!) but also one of the most tragic of all the glamour girls/sex-symbols. Rita, so vibrant onscreen was, in real life, painfully shy and derived little or no pleasure from her stardom or the image Columbia studios fashioned for her. Unlike, say Marilyn, who whatever her issues, enjoyed the public's mass love — the mob scenes, the media coverage. MM was able to lift herself out her miasma of miseries enough to take satisfaction with what she had accomplished, at least in the matter of being a great star. (That Monroe realized she was considered a joke by many, was a great torment to her, but not great enough to dampen her appreciation for fame.)
All Rita wanted was to love and be loved, have children and live quietly. It was never to be. When she became America's first Hollywood princess, long before Grace Kelly, she miscalculated, thinking life in Europe would free her from the fishbowl existence in Hollywood. But it was quite the opposite. She was observed and judged even more, and found wanting, in terms of glamour and flamboyance. (Prince Aly had married Rita based on her striking screen image. But the casually dressed, painfully reticent hausfrau she really was, surprised him. Her previous husband, Orson Welles, had also been taken aback by the "real" Rita. But he was less insistent that she play the role of movie queen.)
Rita with her first husband, Orson Welles.
Rita and Prince Aly in 1951.
RITA fled her marriage from Aly, with the clothes on her back, and her two daughters, terrified that the prince would demand custody of their child Princess Yasmin. She found herself still under contract to Columbia, who put her back to work. There would be a few more successful films, "Affair in Trinidad" "Salome" "Pal Joey" but the vivacity of her early years was muted. Rita, still lovely, but maturing, seemed drained of life in some way. Her experiences with Aly Kahn and then a disastrous marriage to singer Dick Haymes ("Mr. Evil" as he was known around town) seemed to have muted her.
Rita and Princess Yasmin.
Her marriage to Dick Haymes would prove disastrous.
Perhaps it was the very early onset of Alzheimer's that would eventually disable and kill her, and/or her drinking. Maybe life had disappointed her once too often. (Robert Mitchum, who co-starred with Hayworth in 1957's "Fire Down Below" recalled finding her on the beach, tossing stacks of mail into the water. "There might be checks!" he said. Rita wearily replied: "Maybe, but more likely it's just more trouble.")
Rita and Robert Mitchum between the takes of "Fire Down Below."
BUT I don't like to think of Rita as she succumbed. She remains so potent, so appealing, so full of life onscreen, at her best — Fred Astaire's most engaging partner ... seducing and abandoning Tyrone Power in "Blood and Sand" ... witty and prettily predatory in "The Strawberry Blonde" ... hypnotically impassive and wicked in "The Lady From Shanghai" ... (Orson Welles' weirdly brilliant flop) ... and but of course, as "Gilda," the wonderfully free and spitefully taunting bad girl, who is of course revealed to be not really so bad. (A false "happy ending," but what the hell?")
Rita and Fred — "So Near and Yet So Far"
"Doesn't it bother you at all that you're married?" barks an enraged Johnny Farrell, after wrenching Gilda from the arms of a besotted dancing partner.

Smiling like the cat who ate the canary, Gilda replies, "What I want to know, Johnny, does it bother you?"


Contact Liz Smith here.