After dancing professionally from the age of 13 with her father's troupe, and then after five years working in the film business, in 1940 Rita Hayworth was a starlet under contract to Columbia Studios. She had had leading roles in B films, serials, and some supporting roles in major films like 'Only Angels Have Wings' with Cary Grant (1939) and 'Susan and God' with Fredric March and Joan Crawford.
In 1941 Rita bloomed-blossomed-EXPLODED onto the screen as a major film celebrity. First, as 'The Strawberry Blonde' (for Warners), she received great notices and gave a well-polished performance as an 1890's flirt. Rita worked well & charmingly opposite James Cagney.
At 20th Century-Fox, Hayworth was dazzling as the temptress Dona Sol in the Technicolor 'Blood and Sand' opposite Tyrone Power (who can forget the way she runs her fingers thru & pulls Power up by his hair!). Her Sol was mysterious in her silences, yet highly erotic in her interaction with Power and Anthony Quinn. Rita was fantastic in color and became Hollywood's most famous redhead with the release of this film.
At this time, by Hayworth's own account, Fred Astaire came to her home studio Columbia, signed on for 2 films, and asked for Hayworth to be his partner. Their first film, released in 1941, was 'You'll Never Get Rich'. Astaire and Hayworth were magical together, and most critics agree that Hayworth was one of Astaire's best dancing partners.
Astaire would later state in his memoirs that "Rita danced with trained perfection and individuality." And according to Astaire's good friend David Niven, and also Astaire's daughter Ava, Rita Hayworth was Fred Astaire's all-time favorite dance partner.
Publicizing the release of 'You'll Never Get Rich', Time Magazine put Hayworth on the cover of their November 10 1941 issue, with a portrait by the famed pin-up illustrator George Petty.
Finally, in August of 1941, Life Magazine published the iconic photo of Rita perched on a bed in a satin and lace nightgown. It became one of the most famous 'pin ups' of the war years. By the end of 1941 she was nicknamed "The Love Goddess of the 20th Century". She had just turned 23.
So here was the birth of a modern film Goddess, surely as remarkable as Venus herself arising from the sea. Hayworth in her day was compared to this ancient deity (Life Magazine, "The Cult of the Love Goddess in America" 1947), representing for her generation their current feminine ideal.
Even now Hayworth provides the prototype of the ideal woman: that amazing head of long flowing auburn hair, crowned with a widow's peak. The angular face with its beautiful profile. The full lips, the ample bosom. the elegant hands with their long red fingernails. But there was much more to her than that. She was in her own right an excellent dancer, one of the best. When dancing she moved -flowed- thru space with an unearthly grace. She was extremely photogenic-- the camera loved her, as it did Marilyn Monroe. Onscreen, she brims over with exotic magnetism. It is hard to take one's eyes off of her. Yet, like Ava Gardner, Hayworth could convey a warmth, a deep vulnerability, to her audiences.
Columbia's studio chief Harry Cohn was said to have been quite an ogre in real life, but he was above all a showman. He presented Rita in films tailored to capture her unique charsima at its upmost. On the whole, he was very successful. The Hayworth persona is perfectly captured in her Columbia films.
The five films in THIS set -'Cover Girl' 1944- 'Tonight and Every Night' 1945- 'Gilda' 1946- 'Salome' 1953- and 'Miss Sadie Thompson' 1953- give us a great representation of Hayworth in her full glory, at the height of her powers to mesmerize an audience.
Hayworth the dancer. In 'Cover Girl', Hayworth in a flowing dress of gold comes flying down - seemingly from the heavens -to dance with her chorus, a truly iconic moment. Yet another from the same film, the majestic 'Long Ago And Far Away' musical sequence, is a masterpiece of lyrical romanticism. Rita and Gene Kelly bring to their perfomance here a highly-charged romantic passion that is amazing to watch. Their dancing sizzles with electricity, culminating with Hayworth giving herself to Kelly by dropping deeply into his arms-- surely one of the hottest dance moves in movie history.
One of the highlights of this set is the many dance and musical numbers Hayworth is involved in. In these films, working with some of the best choreograpers from Hollywood & Broadway (like Jack Cole, Gene Kelly, Valerie Bettis, among others), Hayworth excels in a wide range of musical numbers-- old-time vaudeville numbers, classic tap, comedy numbers, exhilarating duets with Kelly, a white-hot Brazilian samba, the primitive-style choreography of the 'Dance of the Seven Veils', the archetypal siren's song of 'Amado Mio', the playful mock-strip of the iconic 'Put the Blame on Mame'.
The Hayworth closeup. Rita Hayworth and Technicolor were made for each other. An expensive process at the time, I am grateful that Columbia Studios was able to put Rita in many Technicolor films. The extreme closeups of Hayworth in these films (particularly in 'Tonight and Every Night'), are just jaw-dropping. Dazzling. Hayworth's coloring in these films- her skin all peaches and cream, the vivid red-gold of her hair- just unreal like a dream. Cinematographer Rudy Mate (he also shot 'Gilda'), and the others who shot these films must be commended for their artistry in contributing to Rita's mystique.
Hayworth and 'Tonight'. This under-rated musical has the most beautiful Technicolor photography I have ever seen. Lee Bowman, who lost Rita to Gene Kelly in 'Cover Girl', makes a good leading man for her in this film. The erotic high-point of 'Tonight and Every Night', the 'You Excite Me' dance number, is amazing for its risque lyrics as well as for its overwhelming visuals and for its spectacular, delirious musical arrangement.
Salome and Sadie. While perhaps the weakest film in the set, nevertheless 'Salome' is a prime example of Hayworth in her 'goddess' mode, with many lavish closeups of her, each accompanied by her own special musical motif. Designer Jean Louis dresses Hayworth in every color of the rainbow, first in Roman, then in Palestinian princess designs. This film is sheer eye candy.
'Miss Sadie Thompson' is a total departure for Rita, her first character part, and one of her best performances. The whole film has a nice, jazzy feel to it. Rita's Sadie is fun-loving, a bit blowsy, and we see her as a totally street-wise 'dame'. She more than holds her own in the dramatic scenes with co-star Jose Ferrer. Rita as Sadie, drunk and sweating in a roomful of drunken marines, cuts loose with 'The Heat is On'-- another iconic, memorable moment. Yet she tops herself in the very next scene with the jazzy, blusey 'Blue Pacific Blues'.
Gilda. A black and white film that launched Rita into immortality. In 1946, the first atomic bomb exploded in peacetime was named "Gilda"...so explosive was this character on the public's imagination. 'There Never Was A Woman Like GILDA' screamed the ads back then, yet it still holds true today. This is a 'film noir' meditation on sex and desire. Co-star Glenn Ford has said Hayworth was his favorite actress and that this was his favorite film. Director Charles Vidor guides his favorite actress perfectly, and somehow, in some organic way, he captured her essence as no director ever has. Rita is simply magical in 'Gilda'. Pure cinema magic.
Also, Rita Hayworth and music go hand in hand. Kudos to Columbia Studios' music department-headed by Morris Stoloff- who provided rich, beautiful orchestrations and music for each Hayworth film. A perfect example of their artistry would be the fanfare to the opening credits of 'Gilda' and 'Miss Sadie Thompson'. Wonderful music.
After a very long time in development, Sony Pictures is releasing this 5 disc set as part of their 'Collectors Choice' series in conjunction with Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation. All films have been restored and this set will be of high quality just by its pedigree.
A special thanks to Mr. Scorsese, whose name has been connected to so many restorations of classic films this year. He seems to be deeply involved in keeping these films alive for future generations, as well as being our greatest living director. I find him inspiring.