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Rita Hayworth on the big screen

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One of the many delights of the Wellington Film Society’s 72nd season, which begins on Monday week, will be to see Rita Hayworth as Gilda in the legendary 1946 film noir directed by Charles Vidor. And, like all the society’s films this year, it’ll be shown on the big screen at the Embassy Theatre.

Philip French wrote in the Guardian in 2011 that Gilda is:

a wonderfully perverse noir classic that comes over as a cross between Casablanca (an intentional influence) and Hitchcock’s Notorious (which appeared just weeks after Gilda)….Hayworth is sad and stunning, the film is beautifully lit by Rudolph Maté (who photographed Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent and Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be), and designed by Van Nest Polglase, whose key credits include Top Hat and Citizen Kane.

Gilda isn’t screening till June. But there are three other chances in the Film Society’s Monday night schedule to see Rita Hayworth on the big screen at the Embassy.

On March 12 – the third screening of the year – members will see The Lady From Shanghai, starring not only Hayworth but also Orson Welles, who wrote it, directed it and produced it, one year after Gilda. Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian in 2014, when the magnificent restoration was released:

There’s such outrageous brilliance in Orson Welles’s brash and sexy noir melodrama … There are some opaque plot tangles, perhaps due to 60 minutes being cut from Welles’s original version by the studio, but the sheer brio and style make it a thing of wonder, whisking the audience from the streets of New York City, to the open seas, to a tense courtroom and then to a bizarre house of mirrors…This is arguably Welles’s best acting performance: theatrically romantic, with warmth, wit and a gust of pure charisma.

And Tony Paley, also in the Guardian:

The studio head insisted that Welles’s estranged wife, Rita Hayworth, play the scheming femme fatale of the title. An added emotional resonance comes from the knowledge that the director and Hayworth – who reputedly said the only happiness she had known was with Welles – briefly lived together again during filming. Welles proceeded to shock the studio executives. With the approval of Hayworth, who wanted to break from the character she had become so identified with thanks to the huge hit Gilda (1946), he had his wife’s locks shorn and her trademark red hair dyed blonde.

In May the film society is showing her first major role – in the 1939 film Only Angels Have Wings. Geoff Andrew for the BFI in 2014:

Danger, desire, death and a donkey – Cary Grant, Jean Arthur and Rita Hayworth are flying high in a welcome return to the big screen for Howard Hawks’s peerlessly entertaining tale of aviation in the Andes…in a lovely new restored version.

These films may have been available on line in copies of varying quality. But looking at them at home alone on a computer screen is a miserable affair that does little to reveal the real impact of each production. Seeing them in a big cinema on a big screen and sharing the experience with an audience of like-minded enthusiasts is an experience that cannot be equalled any other way. (Geoff Andrew records that the London audience gave a loud round of spontaneous applause over the end credits for Only Angels Have Wings.)

And the film society’s schedule at the Embassy offers many other chances to share great films with an enthusiastic audience. There are new ones as well as older ones – but it’s the older ones that may have the strongest appeal, including Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville from 1965 and his Une Femme Est Une Femme from 1959, William Cameron Menzies Things To Come from 1936, and (not so old) Terry Gilliam’s Brazil from 1984.

And at the end of the year, Rita Hayworth again, in the 1944 Cover Girl, this time in flawless technicolor (a newly restored version) with music by Jerome Kern and starring opposite Gene Kelly.

When she died (in New York, of Alzheimer’s disease) in 1987, the New York Times remembered that Rita Hayworth had made over forty films and had been the epitome of Hollywood glamour and allure, a stunningly beautiful actress and dancer. During World War II, her pinup pictures decorated barracks walls and ships’ bulkheads wherever servicemen went:

Her performance in Cover Girl earned Miss Hayworth the attention of Life magazine, which printed a photograph of her, posed seductively in black lace, that became famous around the world as an American servicemen’s pinup. In what was intended, no doubt, as the ultimate compliment, the picture was even pasted to a test atomic bomb that was dropped on Bikini atoll in 1946.

1 comment:

  1. Chris Hormann, 14. February 2018, 12:32

    Great write-up Lindsay and thank you for your support. The poster of Rita Hayworth appeared as a very prominent plot device in the film of The Shawshank Redemption and of course the Stephen King novella on which it is based is called Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.