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The Films of Rita Hayworth: The Collector's Choice DVD Review

The Films of Rita Hayworth: The Collector's Choice DVD cover art - click to buy The Films of Rita Hayworth: The Collector's Choice

5-Movie Set Contains: Cover Girl (1944), Tonight and Every Night (1945),
Gilda (1946), Salome (1953), and Miss Sadie Thompson (1953)

1.33:1 Full Screen (Original Aspect Ratio)
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles: English
Running Time: 503 Minutes (8 Hours, 23 Minutes) plus 150 Minutes (2 hours, 30 Minutes) of Extras
Release Date: December 21, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $59.98
Five single-sided, single-layered discs (DVD-5s)
Six-sided Digipak with cardboard slipcover
Movies Not Rated; See Below for Cast, Directors and Other Film Details

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Salome (1953) movie poster Salome

Theatrical Release: March 24, 1953 / Running Time: 103 Minutes

Director: William Dieterle / Writers: Harry Kleiner (story & screenplay); Jesse L. Lasky Jr. (story)

Cast: Rita Hayworth (Princess Salome), Stewart Granger (Commander Claudius), Charles Laughton (King Herod), Judith Anderson (Queen Herodias), Sir Cedric Hardwicke (Tiberius Caesar), Basil Sydney (Pontius Pilate), Maurice Schwartz (Ezra the King's Advisor), Arnold Moss (Micha the Queen's Advisor), Alan Badel (John the Baptist)

Songs: "Dance of the Seven Veils"

John the Baptist (Alan Badel) travels throughout Jerusalem preaching the good of God and the evil of Herod (Charles Laughton). It does not sit well with the king or his wife Herodias (Judith Anderson), and they have John arrested for being a heretic. Meanwhile, Herodias' daughter Salome (Rita Hayworth) is reeling from a break-up with a Roman and trying not to get close to Claudius (Stewart Granger).
He's been teaching Salome more and more about the truth behind John the Baptist's words, eventually converting her to Christianity. Salome then wants to save John from execution, and tries to convince Herod to spare his life. But the one she really has to convince is her mother, who has the greatest influence on Herod's decisions.

Thanks to the immense success of Samson and Delilah in 1949 and Quo Vadis in 1951, many Hollywood studios jumped on the Biblical bandwagon throughout the 1950s. It led to some great films (The Robe), some delightfully campy ones (my personal favorite, The Ten Commandments), and some downright awful ones (The Silver Chalice). Salome was one of Columbia's entries into the genre, and it falls somewhere between camp and awful. As a fan of Biblical epics, I was looking forward to watching Salome, the only Hayworth film in the collection I hadn't seen. I did enjoy the film on some level, and I can understand the appeal such lavish films had at the time. Period pieces set in Biblical times often yield a greater creativity in aspects like set design and costumes, and have some of the best musical scores ever written. Salome doesn't disappoint on any of these fronts. We get expansive set pieces, some intricately detailed costumes, and a great epic score not by Miklós Rózsa.

Claudius (Stewart Granger) tries to chat up the initially distant Salome (Rita Hayworth). John the Baptist (Alan Badel) raises his hand. He knows the answer!

However, when it comes to Bible movies, filmmakers always seem to drop the ball on the dialogue. Even the good ones like Ben-Hur suffer from this. One of the biggest problems with Biblical epics is a misplaced need by the actors to speak every line in eloquent and reverential tones, causing many to unintentionally camp it up. Salome not only suffers from sounding like reverential camp, but it's not even the good camp like Anne Baxter's "Oh Moses, you stubborn, splendid adorable fool!" declaration in The Ten Commandments. The script is substandard, and that is because the story is such a departure from its rather lean scriptural origins. As a result, it unwittingly becomes a subtle propaganda piece for Christian morality (then again, what 1950s Biblical epic wasn't?) rather than an enjoyable epic. Oscar Wilde characterized Salome better in his play; in Columbia's film we instead get a spurned and naive girl who finds out too late that her parents are bad guys and there is a greater good to follow.

With such a talented cast, I had hoped the performances would outweigh the stilted dialogue. Unfortunately, Charles Laughton seems to be doing a flimsy imitation of Peter Ustinov's Nero from Quo Vadis, whilst Judith Anderson just sounds absolutely bored with the whole affair. It also doesn't help that Stewart Granger walks around as a de facto handsome soldier with nothing else going for him. He's got the emotional range of a wooden plank. Oh well, we can at least count on Rita to dance the night away, right? Her famed "Dance of the Seven Veils" is perhaps the only saving grace in her less-than-Hayworth performance. After enduring 93 minutes of trite melodrama just to get to that scene, the payoff is worth it. Of course, just when the dance really gets interesting and she's about to go full monty (not that the censors would have allowed it), in comes the head of John the Baptist and Rita's worst on-screen scream ever. Suddenly we're back in Bible camp, and all those disappointing performances come to a head. Ultimately, Salome is a lifeless and dull movie. It's lovely to look at, barely tolerable to listen to (excellent score aside), and thankfully less than two hours long.

Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) movie poster Miss Sadie Thompson

Theatrical Release: December 23, 1953 / Running Time: 91 Minutes

Director: Curtis Bernhardt / Writers: Harry Kleiner (screenplay), W. Somerset Maugham (story)

Cast: Rita Hayworth (Sadie Thompson), José Ferrer (Alfred Davidson), Aldo Ray (Sergeant Phil O'Hara), Russell Collins (Doctor Robert MacPhail), Diosa Costello (Ameena Horn), Harry Bellaver (Joe Horn), Wilton Graff (Governor), Peggy Converse (Mrs. Margaret Davidson), Henry Slate (Private Griggs), Rudy Bond (Private Hodges), Charles Bronson (Private Edwards), Frances Morris (Mrs. MacPhail, Peter Chong (Chung), John Grossett (Preacher), Jo Ann Greer (Rita Hayworth's Singing Double)

Songs: "A Marine, A Marine, A Marine", "Hear No Evil", "The Heat is On", "Blue Pacific Blues"

There isn't much action for the US soldiers stationed on the paradise of Samoa. When Sadie Thompson (Rita Hayworth) arrives, the island suddenly bursts into excitement. On her way to New Caledonia, an island quarantine turns Sadie's two-hour layover into an entire week, to the delight of Sergeant Phil O'Hara (Aldo Ray), a soldier in love with her. However, not all the island's visitors are pleased by the shift in the climate. Devoutly moral missionary Alfred Davidson (José Ferrer) sees Sadie as an immoral problem that must be redeemed immediately. In Davidson's attempts to "help" her, Sadie's past is exposed, Phil breaks things off with her, and Sadie turns to prayer and the Bible. But is this a true redemption or something orchestrated by Davidson to get her to be with him?

I had read criticism about how Miss Sadie Thompson was considered far tamer than the original Maugham story (check it out here), and so I read the short story to compare. To be fair, there are the natural changes that stem from adapting literature into film, but the spirit of the story still exists. At the heart are a fallen woman who repents, and the pious man who falls. The film itself still comes across as rather shocking for its time; even I blushed at some of the dialogue and situations. I had noticed that Jerry Wald produced the film. He would later go on to produce 1957's Peyton Place, another film considered racy for its time despite sanitizing its source material. This helped me early on to consider the mindset of the viewing public for the time, because if a little soap opera movie Peyton Place shocked them in 1957, then Miss Sadie Thompson would have surely made some faint in 1953. Make no mistake, the film is still tamer than the text, but it relishes in being able to insinuate many things that are never outright said. It's all about how viewers perceive the situations rather than situations themselves. Thus, the raciness is brought on more by a viewer's thoughts rather than the picture itself being dirty.

Kauai stands in nicely for Samoa, and Rita Hayworth provides a great foreground to this backdrop. Phil (Aldo Ray) learns of Miss Sadie Thompson's past.

On top of the adaptation concerns, there was also the criticism that Rita's portrayal of Sadie Thompson wasn't as racy or exciting as pre-Code interpretations by Gloria Swanson (Sadie Thompson, 1928) and Joan Crawford (Rain, 1932). I couldn't acquire the Swanson film, but I did watch Crawford's (thank you, Internet Archive). Changing Sadie from a prostitute to a mere nightclub singer with a past (that now only suggests prostitution) removes more of the "edge" the character could have had. Instead of the defiant and morally ambiguous heroine, we get a woman simply having good times and others trying to punish her for it. Her past isn't as controversial as in the original text, and she becomes a bit less exciting because of it. Hayworth did the best she could with the restrictions placed on the character. One thing I noticed, and I feel rather shallow for it, is that there were far less close-ups of Hayworth here than there were in her previous films. Watch Gilda and you see the camera absolutely in love with her. In Miss Sadie Thompson, they feel more like good friends or acquaintances, who don't want to get too close.

Perhaps in lieu of close-ups, the filmmakers hoped the audience would instead be excited to see Rita Hayworth in 3-D. Unfortunately, the 3-D fad was dying down by the time they got around to Miss Sadie Thompson, and the film's success was due more to its 2-D showings rather than the 3-D ones (which, if Wikipedia can be trusted, lasted a mere two weeks). I didn't notice many scenes that would have benefited from 3-D, but the widescreen vistas of Kauai (standing in for Samoa) are quite breathtaking. It certainly was nice of Harry Cohn to loosen the purse strings a bit for this film. Unfortunately, high production values and lovely landscapes don't mask my biggest problem with the film: just how high and mighty the morally right characters come across. Alfred Davidson is absolutely loathsome and his continued fight against immorality makes him more a villain than a savior. He's positively unlikeable because of his values, ironic since such values were meant to be admired. In the end, rather than a good morality tale, Miss Sadie Thompson stands more as a highly flawed but beautifully shot comeback vehicle for Hayworth.

John Coudair (Otto Kruger), Cornelia "Stonewall" Jackson (Eve Arden), and real-life cover girl Jinx Falkenburg sort through various headshots in "Cover Girl." As King Herod, Charles Laughton stares at his birthday gift in "Salome."

VIDEO and AUDIO

The first four films were made in the pre-widescreen era standard of 1.37:1 (essentially "full screen" in today's vernacular), and are presented on DVD in that way. Miss Sadie Thompson is presented in the 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Unlike its original 3-D theatrical release, you won't need glasses to watch at home as it's the standard 2-D presentation. If 3-D televisions become the norm (which in this reviewer's opinion is highly unlikely), maybe then Sony will see it fit to release the film in the third dimension.
Like plenty of other classic catalogue titles released by Sony, the films are authored on single-layered discs (DVD-5s). I really wish they were authored on dual-layered discs (DVD-9s). Make no mistake, they still looked fairly good on the two televisions (one SD, one HD) that I viewed them on, but the movies could easily look better had Sony provided the higher bit rates that DVD-9s afford.

If stickers on the packaging are to be believed, Cover Girl and Gilda have been remastered since their last DVD release. Comparing the 2010 DVDs to their older releases reveals change, but not necessarily improvement. Cover Girl's 2010 transfer actually looks inferior to its 2003 transfer. Yes, the dust and scratches from the old transfer are gone, but now we get slightly murky skin tones, and Hayworth's red hair loses a bit of luster. Colors in general look duller than usual, and even though the 2003 transfer felt faded at times, it looked like a Technicolor picture. This one doesn't, with an unnaturally strong presence of yellow. It sacrifices brightness and vibrancy for sharpness and clarity, rather than finding the happy medium in between. I don't know what happened, and I can't with any authority say that this remastered transfer was done incorrectly. Quite simply, there now exists two different DVD transfers of the same film, and my personal preference is the older one.

Screencap from the 2003 "Cover Girl" DVD. Screencap of same shot from 2010's The Films of Rita Hayworth DVD collection.

Screencap from Cover Girl's original 2003 DVD

Same shot from The Films of Rita Hayworth 2010 DVD

Likewise, Gilda's remastered transfer is a mixed bag, though not as drastically different as Cover Girl. Gilda's 2000 DVD transfer was fine for its time, but there was still some noticeable dust and noise throughout, and some frame instability during fades and reel transitions. In this new transfer, picture is more consistent and the noise is reduced, but still present. At times it feels grainier than it should, even for a black and white film noir. The differences between the two transfers are marginal and to a naked eye could be indistinguishable. However, like the Cover Girl transfer the picture is slightly sharper and details have a greater clarity. Strangely, the film is preceded by the 30-second restoration credits from its old DVD, which I hope was an oversight and not a sign they simply used the same transfer.

Tonight and Every Night, Salome, and Miss Sadie Thompson all make their DVD debuts here. Like Cover Girl, they're all Technicolor films, and Tonight and Every Night utilizes that aspect the best. We get vibrancy and polish in its colors that Cover Girl didn't have. There are a few instances of dust and debris, but they're not prominent and in a way help add to the atmosphere. Salome also looks quite good, even the night scenes come off convincingly despite the obviously staged sets and all too perfectly blue night sky backdrop. Shot-on-location daytime scenes, however, looked much better. There's little, if anything, to complain about. Miss Sadie Thompson is the only widescreen picture, and offers plenty of outdoor cinematography that gives viewers a true sense that they're in that world. Its colors are not as rich as I'd hoped, and the whole film has a smoky, overly grainy quality that simply begs for a more extensive restoration. Of all five, Tonight and Every Night and Salome look the best, while Miss Sadie Thompson needs the most work.

All the films offer two-channel presentations of their original mono soundtracks, which do their job and for the most part need no complaints or praise. 3-D engagements of Miss Sadie Thompson were in 3-track stereo, which like the 3-D, we don't get. Of particular note, the mono track for Gilda sounds clearer than the old one, and the echoey nature is gone. The film also loses several of its foreign dubs and subtitles from the old disc. English subtitles are offered on all the films, featurettes, and commentary.

Rita doing her thing in a still from "Baz Luhrmann on Cover Girl." The trailer for "Tonight and Every Night" is included and gets right down to business with a clip from "You Excite Me."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

A majority of Hayworth's Columbia films have been given barebones DVDs, limited to trailers (often for other films) and occasional talent files. A few titles received slightly better treatment, namely The Lady From Shanghai, but that likely had more to do with the director (Orson Welles) than Hayworth's star power. Most Hayworth fans starved for DVD extras simply acquire the excellent Turner Classic Movies documentary, Rita, released by Image Entertainment in 2004. Sony's Collector's Choice set doesn't provide that excellent hour-long documentary (although they could have, since Sony and Image acquired mutual distribution rights to each other's catalogue earlier this year), but does offer some extras similar to the series' other box sets.

Director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!, Australia) starts us off with the aptly-titled "Baz Luhrmann on Cover Girl" (4:18). It's less about Cover Girl and more about Hayworth as a dancer. He makes note about how the sensuality of her movement was a far cry from her real-life shyness, as well as how Columbia's musicals differed from MGM's. It's obvious that Luhrmann has much more he'd like to say, making it unfortunate that he didn't record a commentary.

The Previews menu simply offers DVD trailers for "The Treasures of Columbia Classics" (3:34) and The Pillars of the Earth (1:55), making Cover Girl the only film in this set without its trailer (harrumph!).

Next, it's "Patricia Clarkson on Tonight and Every Night" (4:20). Part film synopsis and part history lesson, actress Clarkson maintains an eloquent tone, as if she were reciting a book on tape. She talks about the real-life "we never closed" Windmill Theatre that the film was based on, its risqué nude numbers (obviously not in Tonight), and several movies based on the Windmill (Murder at the Windmill, Secrets of a Windmill Girl, and Mrs. Henderson Presents). The little time spent talking about the film itself focuses on signature number "You Excite Me" and how cinematographer Rudolph Maté created the definitive image of Hayworth. Tonight's theatrical trailer (2:12) rounds out its disc.

Marty Scorsese recalls his childhood memories of Gilda. The trailer for "Salome" overstates its achievements.

Gilda gets the benefit of both Baz Luhrmann and Martin Scorsese talking about the film (16:05), making for a much longer featurette. Both offer great analysis of the characters and their relationship, relating personal experiences and referencing other films that evoke similar styles and themes. Like I did earlier, Luhrmann even compares Gilda to Casablanca. He's particularly chatty about the film's use of long takes and the natural display of sexuality in the film.
Scorsese provides a more historical perspective on the film, but also touches on the duality of Gilda's intentions, something that would later be found in Hayworth's The Lady From Shanghai performance, and how Gilda fits in the film noir genre. He also shares personal memories of watching Gilda repeatedly on Mondays and Tuesdays (where it spent much of its theatrical re-releases on a double-bill with All the King's Men) when he was 12. Lucky Marty. I didn't see Gilda until I was 20.

In addition, film critic Richard Schickel provides a Gilda audio commentary. He spends much of the runtime dissecting the relationship between Gilda, Johnny, and Ballin, peppered in with biographical Hayworth trivia and spotlights on notable members of the cast and crew. It's quite good... when he's actually talking. His pauses aren't frequent but are still noticeable. Also, like most of the Schickel commentaries I've heard, he speaks in his usual "I'm bored, but let me enlighten you with what I know" tone.

Gilda's theatrical (re-release) trailer (2:08) is also included, making it the only extra ported over from the Columbia Classics DVD of ten years ago. Everything else is gone: the 9-minute "Rita Hayworth: The Columbia Lady" featurette, eight Vintage Advertising stills, talent files for the stars and director, and a 4-page booklet. None of them are really missed, but I would have preferred if they kept the Vintage Advertising, modest as it was.

Patricia Clarkson returns once again in "Introducing Miss Sadie Thompson" (4:23). Like her other introduction, this is more of a recited synopsis and history lesson than her own thoughts on the film. It goes into Hayworth's marriage to Prince Aly Khan and subsequent divorce, a quick who's who in the cast and crew, and a pair of contrary quotes: one from W. Somerset Maugham praising Hayworth's portrayal of Sadie Thompson, and a disapproving one from the head of the Censor Board in Memphis, who called "The Heat is On" a filthy scene. Sadie's theatrical trailer (3:00) is also included.

Salome is devoid of extras beyond its theatrical trailer (3:08), which is quick to call it as unforgettable (ha!) as Gone with the Wind, Samson and Delilah, and David and Bathsheba. A commentary here comparing the original Salome story to various adaptations/interpretations would have proven useful. I'm not surprised we didn't get another Patricia Clarkson history lesson. If she was as disappointed with it as I was, it makes sense why she didn't want to talk about it.

The main menu remains the same on all five discs of The Films of Rita Hayworth. (Simply replace "Special Features" with "Original Theatrical Trailer" on "Salome.") "Gilda", Rita Hayworth's most famous film, appropriately receives the most special features in this collection.

If you're interested in this set primarily for supplements, you're not getting much: a take-it-or-leave-it commentary, a half-hour of talking heads, and ten minutes of trailers. However, Sony's Collector's Choice series is more about the films than the extras. They're in partnership with The Film Foundation, Martin Scorsese's nonprofit film preservation organization, and as such seek to release titles more demanded by the aficionados than casual movie fans. The films themselves, not copious amounts of bonus features, are the line's selling point. Still, commentaries are often the series' strongest extras, making me wonder why only one is found here. I also didn't care much for Patricia Clarkson's introductions, since most of what she says can be easily found online.

Menus are static and don't even offer background music. The main menus all share the same image of Hayworth as Gilda, but the subtitles and special features menus are movie-specific. The discs also include images from their respective films. Like other entries in the Collector's Choice line, we get a uniformly designed cardboard box that proudly proclaim not only who the particular collection is celebrating, but also the contemporary filmmakers/actors that are celebrating the films too. The cover re-uses the same Gilda pose from the 2000 DVD. Inside is a three-tray Digipak featuring two dual-disc trays for the first four discs, while the fifth disc gets its own single tray. Color photos adorn all sides of the case, each side representing a specific movie. Inserts include a letter from Princess Yasmin Aga Khan about the Alzheimer's Association Rita Hayworth Gala, an envelope for donating to the cause, and a two-sided insert advertising the Columbia Classics website and their new burn-on-demand DVD-R program.

Rita Hayworth performs the one-glove striptease that made men fall in love with Gilda. The heat is definitely on with Miss Sadie Thompson!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A few years ago, I was talking to my friends about useless Christmas presents we've received over the years. Aside from a labelmaker and some clothes I've never worn, I can't remember what other gifts I thought were useless, and in retrospect that labelmaker turned to be useful after all. Anyway, I always remembered how one of my friends told me that for Christmas she asked for some classic movies.
She received a Rita Hayworth box set on VHS and aside from Gilda, she deemed the whole gift as useless. In her opinion, Rita Hayworth was a decent actress who made nothing but lousy movies, and Gilda was the only one worth watching. We've since lost touch and I have no idea what she's doing now, but reviewing this set made me think of her. I wonder if a revisit of Rita via The Films of Rita Hayworth: The Collector's Choice could change her opinion.

The five films represent some of Hayworth's best work, and also showed what a trouper she could be when given mediocre roles later in her career. Sony and the Film Foundation definitely get my seal of approval for creating a box set that celebrates the iconic actress. However, the shortcomings in the video transfers (notably Cover Girl and Miss Sadie Thompson) are inexcusable, especially given how this set was delayed for over a year. Though welcome inclusions, the extras are nothing to write home about, with the Gilda featurette probably the most valuable. In the end, it comes down to the merits of the movies. Every film fan should see Cover Girl at least once in their life, and Gilda more than that. The other three films, all exclusive to this collection, are a harder sell, and the only one I'd really recommend is Tonight and Every Night. As it stands, this box set is a fairly eclectic mix of her films and the best treatment we've seen for Rita Hayworth on DVD. It's worth adding to any classic film collection.

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Reviewed December 19, 2010.



Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1944-1953 Columbia Pictures and 2010 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.