Rita, When She Danced

DATELINE: Abused Beauty

Rita Hayworth

Love Goddess: Rita Hayworth

 Marguerita Cansino danced with her father professionally at the Zeigfeld Follies. She was 13, and her abusive old man passed her off as an adult—and his wife.

She played Mexican dancers and cowgirls in westerns before making it big with red hair and molars extracted to make her face smaller.

So began the career of movie legend Rita whose Gilda electrified film noir in 1946.  The documentary of her life comes from France where she is more appreciated and is called Rita Hayworth: Man Created. More like “man dominated.”

Poor Rita was made by her first husband whom she married to escape the incestuous hands of her father. He pulled back teeth, dyed her hair red and made her lose weight. Thus was born the legendary dancer who partnered with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in musicals.

She was the power behind Columbia Studios, but other men like Harry Cohn tormented her and controlled her. She escaped with Orson Welles who likely treated her better than all the others. He educated her and made her an actress.

She became a World War II pinup girl and then startled returning GIs as Gilda, her seminal role. She often said men fell in love with Gilda but woke up with Rita.

Eschewing movie roles like The Barefoot Contessa, she married Prince Aly Khan and later singer Dick Haymes. Her later films were curios: playing aging women with Gary Cooper and Robert Mitchum and Glenn Ford.

Some thought she faded fast because of alcohol, but later diagnosis discovered a rare form of Alzheimer’s Disease, starting before she was 50, causing her memory loss and disorientation.

She had powerful friends like Glenn Ford and John Wayne who tried to help her, but she ended up in the care of her daughter Yasima Khan in whose home she died too young, at age 68. Tragic tale of a grand symbol of energy and talent.

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Money Trap Can’t Buy Respect

 DATELINE: Forgotten Noir Film

Rita & Glenn, post Gilda  Aging, but Fine Still

Twenty years after the amazing Gilda, Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth co-starred again in a small-budget film noir. This time it did not have the wit or undercurrent of the closet classic of 1945.

Ripe middle-age makes the pairing interesting for older film fans, but lost youth often is overrated. By 1965 Ford and Hayworth had faces and the best lines were in their faces.

The film is old-fashioned with dissipated cops, aging ingenues, and deep dollops of cynicism.

True noir was already past its prime when The Money Trap flopped at the box office, despite having costars like Ricardo Montalban, Elke Sommer, and Joseph Cotten. The cast is marvelous, hard-bitten, and gives last hurrah performances.

Baby Boomer audiences of the day fell down on the job of paying tribute to the formerly great stars.

In the film Ford and Montalban turn out to be corrupt cops needing big bucks, and Ford couldn’t handle his new generation rich wife, Elke Sommer. Instead, he found his old flame, floozie Rita, worth a second look. Yep, they had that old bugaboo, oft called ‘chemistry’.

Cotten plays a mob doctor with oodles of money hidden in his luxurious home—and the two cops need to steal it to maintain a lifestyle way beyond police salary. Montalban becomes too greedy—and therein lies a double-cross emeritus.

What a wonderful throwback, better appreciated today than when it was originally made with more gloss than grime in the production, but the tone is pure 1940s crime melodrama.

Rita, Kim, & Frank: Pals of Joey

DATELINE:  Another Lost Classic

star power

From 1957 comes an overlooked musical from Rogers and Hart, based on a John O’Hara book. Pal Joey has top-drawer firepower with Kim Novak, Rita Hayworth, and Frank Sinatra.

Set in San Francisco with much location shooting, you will have a sense of what it was like in the Red Light district. Not a year later, Hitchcock would bring Kim Novak back to the setting for Vertigo.

Sinatra is in typecast form as the brash lounge singer who foists himself on whoever is handy. He downplayed what he didn’t like and made the character a version of himself. His dream is to have his own nightclub where he can sing and star. In the meantime, his two-bit hoodlum act wears thin on almost everyone, but he is a ladies’ man, as they used to say.

Sinatra could not have two better, bigger co-stars. Sinatra even gave Hayworth top billing as the “older woman.”  Mae West was originally considered for the role with Billy Wilder directing.

Rita Hayworth is on the cusp of middle-age and seems to be playing her patented Gilda a dozen years later. She is now a rich widow with a tainted show busy past. When Sinatra forces her to perform at a charity auction, she seems about ready to sing “Put the Blame on Mame,” and actually does a satiric number in which she strips off her gloves (both of them, this time).

Sinatra woos her for the start-up money for his lounge on Nob Hill—and voluptuous Kim Novak rises from the chorus to a featured singer and dancer.

Once the tunes start humming, you have a bunch of standards coming one after another: Sinatra sings “The Lady is a Tramp,” to Hayworth—and Hayworth sings “Betwitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” while Novak gives a sensitive rendition of “Funny Valentine.”

Sinatra even re-did the final fantasy dance scene with all three stars, which is sad because Rita Hayworth was a real dancer.

The film shines, despite changes orchestrated by producer Harry Cohn and Sinatra. It’s still classic crooner Sinatra.

Shanghai Surprise, the First Time!

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

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               Gilda Meets Kane in The Lady from Shanghai

One of Orson Welles’ final attempts at a Hollywood mainstream production came with The Lady from Shanghai, starring his then-wife Rita Hayworth. They were trying to be an early version of Burton & Taylor, but found they mustered closer to Sean Penn & Madonna.

The film has all the hallmarks of Welles, but worse yet, he plays a sailor with an Irish brogue that seems to have come from watching too many Barry Fitzgerald movies. We keep waiting for him to sing “Tura-Lura-Lura,” that old Irish lullaby.

On top of that, Gilda herself is a bleached blonde. In those days, such a daring hair color change proved Miss Hayworth was more than a pretty face. She was an actress.

As for the big man himself, he takes turns either sucking in his gut or wearing a moo-moo shirt loose over the excess.

Many Welles team players dot the cast, including the delicious villain Everett Sloane as Bannister, Rita’s well-to-do nutcase husband with steel braces on his legs–and the ever-familiar Erskine Sanford as the judge. Glenn Anders may sweat more diligently than any actor ever on film as Bannister’s creepy law partner.

The movie is a treat of off-kilter camera angles and even more off-beat faces. All this was too much for studio-bound Hollywood production companies who wanted their movies with more matter and less art. Welles also created production furor at Columbia Pictures.

Whatever else the production became in fact and in legend, it is hypnotic like the proverbial train wreck. We become gawkers on the road to perdition, and it is entertaining to rubberneck.

The film ran nearly three-hours uncut, which is a tad long for a cheap noir satire, though you can still spot fleeting Errol Flynn near the yacht he rented to Welles for the movie. Flynn’s pet dog, a Dachshund, steals every scene he’s in, having learned well from Errol.

The movie’s famous ending is the Hall of Mirrors extravaganza that is a hoot and a half. They don’t make’em like this anymore. Actually, they never did make’em like this—excepting Orson Welles.

We still think this movie is high comedy, not melodrama.

Whatever Welles intended the story to be, it becomes a ridiculous crime noir to savor, reminiscent of Touch of Evil, which he would make a decade later.