Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Noir! Gilda and The Lady from Shanghai

Oh, let's take a moment and talk about the unearthly, amazing beauty of Rita Hayworth. She was the daughter of a star flamenco dancer and a Ziegfield girl. She appeared in 61 movies. Fred Astaire said she was the best dancer he ever worked with. She was married to Orson Welles and Prince Aly Khan. Her picture was on the first nuclear bomb tested after World War II. She was a pin up star, a glamour girl, extraordinarily smart and sexy as all hell. When you hear the phrase, Golden Age of Hollywood Screen Goddess, you think of Rita Hayworth.

Which brings us nicely to Rita's best known movie, Gilda (1946). Glenn Ford is Johnny Farrel, a small time hustler who falls in with a sinister casino owner, Balin Mundson, in Argentina, and becomes the manager of the establishment. The casino owner, icily portrayed by George Macready, brings his new wife home after a trip, none other than nightclub singer Gilda, the stunning Rita Hayworth. It seems that Gilda and Johnny were a couple at one time, and that certainly complicates things when Mundson asks Johnny to look after his new bride. Throw in some Nazis, an illegal tungsten cartel, and Gilda's femme fatale "clothed striptease," and you get a racy, perfect little noir movie. This one will surprise you, with its hints of female wantonness, and its ability to make Glenn Ford even a little bit lusty. Also, the ending is completely unexpected in terms of film noir.

The Lady from Shanghai was shot only a year later, but we get an entirely different Rita in this movie. The movie co-starred and was directed by Hayworth's then estranged husband, Orson Welles. Welles cut and bleached Rita's trademark long red hair, much to the chagrin of studio heads. The plot is extremely convoluted and utterly noirish. Suffice to say, Rita is the blonde femme fatale with a husband, Welles is the pursurer, there's a boat, planned crimes that go awry, and a wonderfully funny criminal trial. See the movie for the Hall of Mirrors ending. Surreal, genius, and about fifty years before its time, I have never seen anything quite like it. As usual, the studio chopped about an hour from Welles' final cut before release. Poor Welles, the guy was a genius who was never allowed to completely express himself. Also, there were apparently odd links between this film and the infamous Black Dahlia murders, including shared locations and other facts that were cut from the final film.

Rita Hayworth. . . one of the most gorgeous women ever, sexier than her times would allow her to be.

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