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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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By Albert Gutierrez

It is February 14, 1946. ENIAC, the world's first computer, is unveiled at the University of Pennsylvania. An earthquake unexpectedly strikes Seattle, Washington. Gregory Hines is born in New York City. In the Golden State, Columbia Pictures premieres its newest picture: Gilda, starring Rita Hayworth. Seventeen minutes and twelve seconds in, George Macready asks, "Gilda, are you decent?" The camera then cuts to Hayworth: her head swings up, her hair falls back, and she smiles.
"Me?" she asks coyly. Cue the bewildered Glenn Ford. "Sure, I'm decent," she eventually says, pulling up a shoulder on her dressing gown.

I couldn't help but start my review of Sony's new DVD collection The Films of Rita Hayworth: The Collector's Choice with the moment that truly defined her career. That brief bit, as she looks towards but not quite at the camera, became an iconic image for Rita Hayworth. Women admired her. Men lusted for her. The cameras loved her more than anyone else.

But Rita Hayworth was nothing like temptress Gilda Mundson Farrell. She often remarked how men fell in love with Gilda but woke up with her, and part of that had to do with how she was marketed. Like many actors of the time, "Rita Hayworth" was more of a product than a person. Margarita Cansino, the woman who became Rita Hayworth, was very different from the personality she projected onscreen. Columbia called her the Love Goddess, and it was a part that she played for over thirty years. Whether in heavy drama or splashy musical, every role she took seemed overshadowed by her sex appeal. The very scene I mentioned is a prime example; Gilda is more as an object of desire than an actual person.

"Me?", Gilda (Rita Hayworth) asks as viewers get their first glimpse of her. Rosalind "Ros" Bruce (Rita Hayworth) poses with Life magazine in "Tonight and Every Night."

Hayworth's life reads like a fairy tale in reverse, with the happy ending being her youth and the gradual conflicts being her silver screen career, right up to the very end. Born in Brooklyn in 1918, Margarita Carmen Cansino was the oldest child of famous flamenco dancer Eduardo Cansino. She was groomed to become a dancer at an early age. When the family moved to Hollywood, she partnered with her father as The Dancing Cansinos, eventually catching the eye of Fox Film head Winfield Sheehan in 1934. Six months into her contract, she was dropped by new chief Darryl F. Zanuck, who didn't see any star potential in her. Three years, a couple of dye jobs, a studio, and a name change later, moviegoers would know her not as Margarita Cansino, but as Rita Hayworth. The Love Goddess was born.

Hayworth's initial roles at Columbia were in B-movies, few of which are memorable and fewer that are commercially available today. Like many young actresses of the time, she cut her acting teeth in such films. Her green quality still shows even in Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings, her first major role. Hayworth's career boomed in the early 1940s, as she filmed twelve movies in the span of three years.
Only half of them were at her contract studio Columbia; studio president Harry Cohn loaned her out to Warner Bros. and (ironically) 20th Century Fox, to help develop her stardom. Of course, Hayworth's biggest success during this time was off the screen, as a LIFE magazine photo spread adorned thousands of GIs' barracks walls during World War II. This was perhaps the first true appearance of the "Rita Hayworth" persona. Pictures of her and Betty Grable became iconic for our boys overseas, the ideal women waiting back home for them.

Although Hayworth was primarily a dancer, those skills weren't put to use until Fred Astaire signed a two-picture contract with Columbia and requested he work with Hayworth. He was both delighted and surprised at the prospect of working with Hayworth, a family friend. The pair starred in the highly successful You'll Never Get Rich and You Were Never Lovelier, two pictures that both Astaire and Hayworth counted among their personal favorites. It was in musicals that Hayworth flourished, opposite Gene Kelly in Cover Girl (Columbia's first Technicolor musical) and renowned stage dancer Marc Platt in Tonight and Every Night and Down to Earth. Even non-musicals like 1946's Gilda and 1948's The Loves of Carmen incorporated dance sequences specifically for Hayworth. Hayworth was box office gold for Columbia. Gilda and The Loves of Carmen, for example, were the studio's highest-grossing films in their respective years. Much to Hayworth's regret and despite the success of her musicals, the frugal Cohn refused to pay for singing lessons. All her songs were dubbed by a professional singer.

The dance of the seven veils, as done by Rita Hayworth in "Salome." Noel Wheaton (Lee Bowman) tries to sweep Rusty (Rita Hayworth) off her feet in "Cover Girl."

Frugality wasn't the only problem Hayworth had with Cohn. Their relationship was always tense, something common for most anyone under contract to Columbia back then. Hayworth was often vocal to Cohn about various issues and the two fought constantly in spite of their success on various pictures. Hayworth even preferred taking work suspensions rather than giving in and doing what he wanted. When she left Hollywood in 1949 for a marriage to Prince Aly Khan (his second, her third), it was likely no surprise to those in the industry, only to the general public aware of her backstage drama. She was still under contract during this time, and eventually returned to Columbia in 1952. A series of marital problems and a public divorce (along with the even more public custody battles) brought Hayworth back as she needed the work and needed to, in her own famous words, "finish that goddamn contract."

After her glory days of the 1940s, Hayworth's career in the 1950s was a rollercoaster of highs and lows. She reunited with Glenn Ford in the Gilda rip-off Affair in Trinidad, and danced away the seven veils in Salome. The two films were successful enough with audiences to convince Columbia to pull out all the stops for her next film. In late 1953, Columbia showcased her in Miss Sadie Thompson, a big-budget adaptation of the W. Somerset Maugham story, shot on location and in 3-D. The public loved her as Sadie Thompson, but instead of heading back to the studio, Hayworth went on the road with singer Dick Haymes, who became ex-husband number four and kept her out of pictures again until 1957's Fire Down Below. That same year saw the release of Pal Joey, her last film at Columbia. The studio would later distribute the western They Came to Cordura, a film produced by her own Baroda Productions.

By then, it was apparent that the Love Goddess was growing up, and more noticeably, growing old. Her fondness of alcohol and the stress from her marriages showed in her appearances. Opposite Frank Sinatra in Pal Joey, Hayworth had to compete with Columbia's ingénue Kim Novak. After this, her final musical, her acting work became scarce and consisted of more mature roles. Delbert Mann's Separate Tables saw Hayworth in one of her most acclaimed dramatic roles, thanks in part to fifth and final ex-husband, producer James Hill. Her career was eventually winding down, and Hayworth's last film was the 1972 MGM western The Wrath of God. The crew filmed her scenes one line at a time, as she had trouble memorizing them, largely due to her not-yet-diagnosed Alzheimer's disease. Hayworth passed away in 1987, but the world still remembers her as the one and only Love Goddess.

Having a Maria von Trapp moment, Sadie Thompson (Rita Hayworth) sings to a bunch of children. Salome (Rita Hayworth) looks very modest as she tries to blend in among the listeners of John's sermon.

I've spent a lot of time simply summarizing the career of Rita Hayworth, without focusing much on how she acted in her films. Those roles generally speak for themselves, because in most cases to watch a Rita Hayworth picture was more about showcasing Hayworth the performer, not necessarily Hayworth as a character. She was a trouper in that respect, as even the weakest of her movies still have that Hayworth spark to make them worth watching.
In addition, something to be admired about Hayworth was how rarely she let her personal life show in her professional performance. It's intriguing to watch a Hayworth film knowing what else was happening in her life at the time. The Lady from Shanghai, for example, served as a divorce "gift" for second husband Orson Welles. Cohn loaned money to Welles for a play, and in return Welles made Lady with Hayworth. Knowing about their own rocky marriage greatly enhanced my appreciation of her performance as Elsa Bannister. It's one of her best and a layer of realism is added when you realize she's acting opposite her soon-to-be-ex husband. The line between art and life is blurred, as Michael and Elsa's relationship becomes as tumultuous and distrusting as Orson and Rita's.

Unfortunately, for a new fan to judge Hayworth's performances today has been quite a task. While Turner Classic Movies infrequently airs some of her more popular work, her filmography is rather elusive on DVD. As of this writing, at least six of her films are out of print, and plenty of her pre-Only Angels Have Wings work understandably has never made it to DVD. Several high-profile titles from other studios (20th Century Fox's The Story on Page One and MGM's The Wrath of God) have also yet to grace the format, while a few more (Warner's The Strawberry Blonde) can only be ordered online via burn-on-demand DVD-Rs. And I unfortunately don't foresee any Blu-ray releases in the near future, even for the most popular films like Gilda. In addition, while Columbia and Sony released a steady amount of her films on DVD in quick succession between 1999 and 2004, relatively few of them are still stocked on store shelves these days. Until now, the studio has otherwise not bothered revisiting Rita Hayworth on DVD aside from - of all films - Affair in Trinidad, which spearheaded 2008-2009's short-lived "Martini Movies" line.

The Films of Rita Hayworth: The Collector's Choice marks the first time a Region 1 DVD box set has been created for Hayworth, and comes from Sony in partnership with The Film Foundation. As someone who's kept close watch on its release date (which has changed from November 3, 2009 to February 23, May 25, November 2, and finally December 21, 2010), I'm eternally grateful that I am finally holding it in my hands, and even more grateful that I've been given a chance to write a review of it. The set revisits two of Hayworth's most iconic films, the Technicolor musical Cover Girl and the film noir Gilda, and also marks the DVD debut of three other titles: Tonight and Every Night, Salome, and Miss Sadie Thompson.

Each film showcases a unique aspect of the appeal of Rita Hayworth, be it her talents as a dancer, her dramatic turns in compelling characters, or her charisma and chemistry opposite any leading man. In Cover Girl, we get the best use of Hayworth and Technicolor (she had previously done color films at 20th Century Fox), with a story that relishes its use of color. Tonight and Every Night features Rita the dancer, in an ensemble musical that makes for a natural showcase of her talent. The film noir Gilda is Chemistry 101, as Hayworth and Glenn Ford display an absolutely volatile and temperamental relationship amidst a choppy story. Salome doesn't offer much but allows Hayworth to partake in the Biblical bandwagon of the time. Finally, Miss Sadie Thompson gives Rita one of her most dramatic roles yet.

Cover Girl (1944) movie poster Cover Girl

Theatrical Release: April 6, 1944 / Running Time: 107 Minutes

Director: Charles Vidor / Writers: Erwin Gelsey (story); Marion Parsonnet, Paul Gangelin (adaptation); Virginia Van Upp

Cast: Rita Hayworth (Rusty Parker, Maribelle Hicks), Gene Kelly (Danny McGuire), Lee Bowman (Noel Wheaton), Phil Silvers (Genius), Leslie Brooks (Maurine), Eve Arden (Cornelia "Stonewall" Jackson), Otto Kruger (John Coudair), Jess Barker (Young John Coudair), Anita Colby (Miss Colby), Curt Bois (Chef at Danny McGuire's), Jinx Falkenburg (Herself), Martha Mears (Rita Hayworth's Singing Double)

Songs: "The Show Must Go On", "Who's Complaining?", "Sure Thing", "Make Way For Tomorrow", "Put Me to the Test", "Long Ago (and Far Away)", "Poor John", "Alter-Ego Dance", "Cover Girl (That Girl on the Cover)"

Rusty Parker (Rita Hayworth) is a dancer at nightclub owned and operated by her boyfriend Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly). She learns of open auditions to be the Golden Wedding Girl for Vanity's 50th Anniversary issue, and eventually gets the coveted position. Her newfound popularity puts the nightclub on the map, but also puts strain on her relationship with Danny. He opts to not stand in her way, intentionally arguing with her one day so she will split up with him. Rusty's continuing rise to stardom leads to a courtship from the wealthy Noel Wheaton (Lee Bowman) and a Broadway show, but she still cannot get Danny off her mind.

Cover Girl is a Cinderella story that provides a believable transformation from a pretty nightclub hoofer to a sophisticated glamour girl, and at the heart of that is Rita Hayworth. She dazzles as both Rusty Parker and Maribelle Hicks, Rusty's grandmother in flashbacks that magazine publisher John Coudair (Otto Kruger) occasionally has. The flashbacks seem like unnecessary filler to the story, but beyond being a major reason why Coudair chooses Rusty as the cover girl, they provide delightful dancing and costumes. The use of Technicolor was unique among Columbia's usual film offerings of the time, as the studio was generally known for its numerous B-movies and thrifty re-use of sets and costumes. Cover Girl was among the first big-budget color features made at Columbia, and its smash success led to other Technicolor musicals for the growing studio, including Hayworth's own Tonight and Every Night (1945) and Down to Earth (1947).

After playing two burlesque girls in "Cover Girl", Rita Hayworth and Leslie Brooks would reteam in "Tonight and Every Night." Gene Kelly's dancing with himself, dancing with himself, well there's nothing to lose and there's nothing to prove and he's dancing with himself.

Perhaps because much attention is drawn to the splendor of color, the actual movie feels too lighthearted to concern itself with realistic plot points or deeply complex characters. They are a little more than stock, offering only the simplest depictions so the audience knows who's friend and who's foe to Rusty Parker. It works here as I don't ask for much when watching a movie, and when it comes to Golden Age Hollywood musicals, I don't really expect much either. They're meant to be a delightful film that has very memorable song and dance numbers, fitting well within the "let's put on a show" formula of the musicals made in that time. Even when they step off the stage to sing, it feels like a natural course of events. "Long Ago (And Far Away)" is such an example, as it stems merely from Rusty correcting Danny on how long he's known her ("seven months, three days, four hours, twenty-three minutes...it was Tuesday").

Kudos should also go to Gene Kelly, co-star and uncredited choreographer, still a few years away from his master work An American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain. His personal touch can be found in several sequences within the film. The innovative "Alter-Ego Dance" allows Kelly to dance with himself (long before Generation X wrote it or Billy Idol sang it), and other numbers show his continued efforts to "plus" the depiction of dance in film. Cover Girl stands out not only as the best Technicolor musical for Hayworth, but a vital stepping stone in Kelly's career.

Tonight and Every Night (1945) movie poster Tonight and Every Night

Theatrical Release: February 22, 1945 / Running Time: 92 Minutes

Director: Victor Saville / Writers: Abem Finkel, Lesser Samuels (screenplay); Lesley Storm (play Heart of the City)

Cast: Rita Hayworth (Rosalind Bruce), Lee Bowman (Squadron Leader Paul Lundy), Janet Blair (Judy Kane), Marc Platt (Tommy Lawson), Leslie Brooks (Angela), Professor Lamberti (Fred/The Great Waldo), Dusty Anderson (Toni), Stephen Crane (Observer Leslie Wiggins), Jim Bannon (Life Photographer), Florence Bates (May Tolliver), Ernest Cossart (Sam Royce), Richard Haydn (Specialty), Philip Merivale (Reverend Gerald Lundy), Patrick O'Moore (David Long), Martha Mears (Rita Hayworth's Singing Double)

Songs: "What Does an English Girl Think of a Yank", "You Excite Me", "The Boy I Left Behind", "Tonight and Every Night", "Cry and You Cry Alone", "Anywhere"

Hayworth stars as Rosalind "Ros" Bruce, an American showgirl who headlines "tonight and every night" at the Music Box Theatre, even during the London Blitz. During one of the German raids, she meets RAF pilot Paul Lundy (Lee Bowman) but spurns his advances. She eventually warms up to him and ultimately falls in love. The two begin dating, much to the disappointment of dancer Tommy Lawson (Marc Platt), who is also in love with Ros, and to the delight of fellow dancer Judy Kane (Janet Blair), who is in love with Tommy. When Paul leaves for a secret assignment without word, Ros worries for him and believes he wants to break their relationship.

Although Hayworth had already proven to be a very bankable star after the success of Cover Girl, she shares the screen with quite an ensemble cast here. Make no mistake, her character is still at the forefront, but the supporting players also get their chance to shine. Marc Platt, best known for his stage work, is a joy to watch in his improvisational dance routine, as he shifts in styles based on the turn of a radio dial. Janet Blair rivals Hayworth in terms of drop-dead-gorgeousness, while also getting her own dramatic subplot that may not be as prominent, but just as heartbreaking. The film's premise of a musical troupe also allows for the entertainment to be more than just song and dance by Hayworth, Blair, and Platt. Well-known vaudevillian Professor Lamberti gets his own lengthy time on the stage in a joyful and comical xylophone piece.

Janet Blair rivals Hayworth in drop-dead-gorgeousness as Judy Kane in "Tonight and Every Night." How often does the meet-cute occur in a bomb shelter?

Perhaps because it's sandwiched between Cover Girl and Gilda, but Tonight and Every Night remains a lesser-known Hayworth film to casual film fans. It's a rarity among contemporary World War II films of the time, as it was neither heavy drama (1942's Mrs. Miniver) nor patriotic military propaganda (1945's They Were Expendable). In fact, I can't think of any contemporary musicals made during and about World War II. As a result, with nothing to compare it to, Tonight and Every Night was a unique and pleasant surprise. I had only before seen half of it once on Turner Classic Movies, but in revisiting for this review, it has since become one of my favorite Hayworth musicals.

The film is very much an underdog story, one that blends the age-old mantra "the show must go on" whilst also serving to cheer up audiences who were eager for the war to end. While the romance is standard and clichéd, it's the endurance and determination of the musical troupe (representing Great Britain) that really impressed me. The Blitz has become one of the most synonymous events of World War II, and in reality must have been very frightening. Imagine living day to day in London not knowing if your home, family, and friends would survive another night's bombing. On top of all that, there is a theatre who takes on such a predicament head on with a "We're not gonna take it!" attitude. It's an amazing dedication, as well as perhaps a bit of sheer stubbornness. But it works, and uplifts the viewers, even when we know casualties are sure to befall them. The ending itself is very bittersweet; I dare any viewer to not find a tear or two emerging as Hayworth sings the title song.

Gilda (1946) movie poster Gilda

Theatrical Release: March 15, 1946 / Running Time: 110 Minutes

Director: Charles Vidor / Writers: E.A. Ellington (story); Jo Eisinger (adaptation); Marion Parsonnet (screenplay)

Cast: Rita Hayworth (Gilda Mundson Farrell), Glenn Ford (Johnny Farrell), George Macready (Ballin Mundson), Joseph Calleia (Detective Maurice Obregon), Steven Geray (Uncle Pio), Gerald Mohr (Captain Delgado), Mark Roberts (Gabe Evans), Ludwig Donath (German Cartel Member), Donald Douglas (Thomas Langford), Anita Ellis (Rita Hayworth's Singing Double)

Songs: "Put the Blame on Mame", "Amado Mio"

Cheating gambler Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) impresses Ballin Mundson (George Macready), who hires him to work in his Buenos Aires casino. Johnny rises in the ranks and becomes Ballin's most trusted and loyal employee. When Ballin returns from a trip with a new wife, Johnny is shocked as the new Mrs. Mundson is none other than Gilda (Rita Hayworth), a woman from his past.
Gilda knowingly and continually antagonizes Johnny about their past, all the while keeping it a secret from Ballin. Even Ballin has his own secrets (regarding German patents) that could have worldwide ramifications.

After the one-two punch of Cover Girl and Tonight and Every Night, Rita Hayworth's next film could have been a static camera filming her tap dance "Tea for Two" and it still would've packed in audiences. Fortunately, instead we get the intriguing film noir Gilda. When you watch Gilda, the one thing that you return to time and again is Rita Hayworth's performance. Were the character handled by anyone else (for example, Columbia's reliable dramatic actress Evelyn Keyes), she might come across as a gold-digging tease. Instead, we get a different take on the stock "femme fatale" character, as the audience is both mystified by and rooting for her. Both Johnny and Ballin are her conquests, but neither is very interesting. Thus, Gilda is the one that the audience wants to see have a happy ending by the credits roll, and it's even more obvious she wants that happy ending with Johnny. It's a bit frustrating waiting with bated breath for Johnny to realize that he still loves her, but the payoff is worth it.

Johnny (Glenn Ford) can't believe his eyes and neither can we. Gilda (Rita Hayworth) serenades Uncle Pio (Steve Geray) late at night.

Frustrating can also be used to classify the story, or lack of one. It is more about the series of head games between Gilda and Johnny, and it's unfortunately padded out with an uninteresting subplot about German patents, clichéd supporting characters like Uncle Pio, and a boring "villain". Ballin himself is nothing more than the latest reason why Johnny and Gilda aren't together, and his re-emergence near the end of the film isn't very compelling. The aforementioned patents feel like a rip-off of Casablanca's letters of transit, as they're given an overinflated importance to the story while being otherwise unremarkable. Indeed, the general structure of the film feels almost like Casablanca 2.0, as you've got the exotic location (Casablanca/Buenos Aires), the anti-hero in white dinner jacket (Rick Blaine/Johnny Farrell), the mysterious woman from his past (Ilsa/Gilda), local law enforcement with the best one-liners (Captain Renault/Detective Obregon), and a song that becomes synonymous with the movie ("As Time Goes By"/"Put the Blame on Mame"). Not to mention the MacGuffin (letters of transit/patents), some illegal gambling, and one-note German bad guys who end up dead.

Even with such story faults, Gilda manages to function brilliantly on many other levels. The script is rife with double entendre and innuendo, with snappy dialogue and some hilariously melodramatic lines like "Hate is a very exciting emotion... I hate you so much I think I'm going to die from it." Hayworth and Ford's on-screen chemistry also adds believability to the love/hate relationship of their characters, helped by some of Ford's most intense stares at both Hayworth and the camera. The pair worked together in five films, each one supported more by their on-screen chemistry rather than an interest in the story. And of course, there's the opportunity to see Rita dance, worth the ticket price alone. "Amado Mio" has become synonymous with Rita, as has her one-glove striptease showcasing the energy of Rita and the boldness of Gilda. And at the end of the day, Gilda is never about patents, stares, or undisclosed backstories. It's all about Rita Hayworth, and has become the ultimate Hayworth film for many.

Continue to Page 2 >>
for Salome, Miss Sadie Thompson, Video & Audio, Bonus Features, and Closing Thoughts

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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.