In one of Stephen King’s most popular stories, at least of those translated into films, a prison inmate sits in his cell and dreams of escape. His fantasy is to escape into the welcoming arms of Rita Hayworth. While that particular element wasn’t to be found in the film, it was important enough in the original story to warrant mention in the original title, which was Rita Hayworth And The Shawshank Redemption. It was a nod to the pin-up status that the actress had in early younger days. In my generation it was Farrah, but for most adolescent boys and World War II soldiers it was the red-headed come-hither smile of Rita Hayworth.
Hayworth first trained as a dancer. The instruction would certainly pay off in her film career where she would trade steps with some of the great dancers in cinema history including Fred Astaire. She was just a young teenager when she managed to be cast in Dante’s Inferno and five other films that year. She left films at the peak of her popularity in a Grace Kelly-like marriage to foreign royalty. She wedded the Prince Aly Kahn, who would also die in a car accident, much as Kelly did. Fortunately for the movie-going public, Hayworth had divorced the prince 7 years earlier in 1953 and returned to the silver screen.
In her later years, she became known as a champion for Alzheimer’s research, as she would become one of the first celebrities to be stricken by the disease, at least as it eventually became known. Of course, the disease has existed for likely as long as humans were reaching older and older ages. Her daughter carried on the fight after Hayworth died at only 68 years of age.
Sony has assembled some of Hayworth’s most memorable roles in this 5-movie / 5-disc collection.
Tonight And Every Night (1945):
“I know when I’m licked, that’s all.”
Rosalind (Hayworth) dances at a local club known for some rather racy performances, known as The Music Box. The joint was known for not missing a single performance during the air blitzes of World War II. Enter Tommy (Platt) who shows up for an audition. He’s got the steps, but he’s all improv. The girls all love him, so he lands a place in the club. Tommy has a thing for Rosalind, but fellow dancer Judy (Blair) has her eyes on Tommy. Meanwhile a pilot from the local based squadron named Paul (Bowman) also has a thing for Rosalind. She doesn’t fall for his advances until he’s away on a dangerous mission and she thinks he might have gotten killed. Who will get who?
The film is more notable for its stage productions than the story. It’s pretty much a typical love story with a few twists thrown in from time to time. Honestly, Rosalind’s reasons for falling for Paul appear a bit contrived, and his actions won’t leave you rooting for him at all. But it’s those lavish and quite risqué dance numbers that take center stage on the movie. Hayworth gets to show off her dance skills as well as her figure in some costumes that must have absolutely pushed the limit in 1945. The routines keep up the pace of this otherwise formula film. There’s a particularly impressive number where the stage performers interact with a newsreel projection on the stage. People appear to enter and exit the newsreel with quite effective staging. While Hayworth was the center of attention here and known for her beauty, I actually found Janet Blair to be far more captivating. The film ends on a rather dour note, unusual for these kinds of musical movies of the time. Finally, you’ll find plenty of the World War II propaganda elements that were common to Hollywood’s output during the war.
The film is based on a play called Heart Of The City, which was itself based on an actual club that continued right on through the air raids. The Windmill was a nude dance club that never missed a performance during the war.
Miss Sadie Thompson (1953):
“The situation has landed and the Marines are well in hand.”
Sadie (Hayworth) is at a tropical stop-over on an island where Marines are stationed during end of World War II. She is running from an illicit past and shows off her wild streak to the local Marines on the island. She gets the attention of one particular soldier, O’Hara (Ray). The two plan to run away to Australia together and start new lives when O’Hara’s tour of duty ends in a month. But Sadie runs afoul of Alfred Davidson (Ferrer), who is the self-appointed morality monitor for the island. Sadie’s wild manner causes him to look deeper into her past where he uncovers her secret. He manipulates her with his religious authority and attempts to get her to face the consequences of her actions.
The film was based on the famous story Miss Thompson by W. Somerset Maugham. The film has a lot more in common with Tennessee Williams’s story Night Of The Iguana. This is really very much a morality play that might seem a little ahead of its time. The film starts out with real promise but self-destructs with an ending that doesn’t quite get the work-up required to buy it. It feels like time was running short, so we’ll just jump to the last page of the book. The film was actually banned in several “Bible Belt” states at the time of its release.
The tropical locations are quite effective, and this might be one of Hayworth’s more emotional parts. The cast is also an impressive ensemble that includes Jose Ferrer as Davidson, Aldo Ray as O’Hara and a very young Charles Bronson as one of the Marines. Look for The Godfather’s Don Cuneo himself, Rudy Bond. He also plays one of the Marines.
“It was my first night in the Argentine, and I didn’t know much about the local citizens, but I knew about American sailors, and I knew I better get out of there.”
Johnny (Ford) is a two-bit gambler who finds himself on the wrong side of a street mugging after cleaning out a few sailors of their money. It looks like he might get himself hurt when Ballin Mundson (Macready) comes along with his “little friend”, a cane with a rather long pointed blade that’s spring-loaded and ready to hurt someone. Johnny’s grateful, and Ballin tells him about a local club and casino he might check out sometime. That’s great, only Johnny can’t help himself, and he gets busted cheating only to find his savior Ballin is the owner of the joint. Ballin takes a liking to Johnny and offers him a job. Eventually, Johnny has worked himself up to manager, and he’s buddies with Ballin. That relationship is put to the test when Ballin returns from one of his trips with a new wife, Gilda (Hayworth). Unknown to Ballin, the two know each other and had worked cons and been lovers in the past. The situation turns into a deadly triangle with some government intrigue and corruption thrown in for good measure.
Not only does this film have one of the best casts in the collection, it’s a fine example of classic film noir at its best. Hayworth has to really act in this one. She does get a couple of numbers that appear forced. She’s at her best as the potential femme fatal of the dangerous triangle. Glenn Ford is really the center of attention in this one. His narration carries the burden of the story and pace of the film. The three main characters ooze with chemistry. This is by far the best film in the collection.
Cover Girl (1944):
“Now, you’ve been in my theater a good many years too. Why don’t you be a good boy and scram?”
Rusty Parker (Hayworth) is another club dancer with dreams of being a cover girl in the magazines. When a fellow dancer shows her an ad for an open audition to become the cover girl in Vanity, she decides to take a chance. Even when her “friend” tries to sabotage her chances, she wins the competition. It’s not that she was really any better than the other girls. It turns out that Vanity owner John Coudair (Kruger) once wanted her grandmother, and Rusty is the splitting image of his lost love. Back at the club the trio of Rusty, Genius (Silvers) and club owner Danny (Kelly) have a good thing going. They have a good act, and the three are great friends. Now they’re worried that Rusty’s new-found fame will break up the partnership. She’s going to have to decide if she wants the bright lights or Danny.
This is a good character film. The routines are fine, but they’re not the focus of the film this time. There’s tons of great chemistry between Hayworth, Silvers, and Kelly here. Silvers does a great job of shedding his Bilko skin here and steals just about every minute of film he’s on. The productions are elaborate and will remind you of the MGM musicals of the day. Dance fans will delight in a scene were Gene Kelly dances with a phantom version of himself.
“After the death of Julius Caesar, Rome ruled the world under the dictatorship of Tiberius Caesar. In the conquered province of Galilee, King Herod and Queen Herodias held the throne. So wanton was Herod’s court the queen sent the young Princess Salome to Rome. And it came to pass that a man appeared in Galilee who many thought was the Messiah. This was the prophet known as John The Baptist.”
The film follows the Biblical story of Salome (Hayworth) who danced for King Herod only to have her mother demand the head of John The Baptist in return for her favors. The film sports a fine cast that includes Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Tiberius Caesar. Of course, he’s used to that kind of power. In the classic The Ten Commandments he held the throne of Egypt as Pharaoh Sethi. He also appeared as an heir to Dr. Frankenstein in Universal’s Ghost Of Frankenstein. Charles Laughton and Judith Anderson play the King and Queen of Galilee. Anderson also would later star in The Ten Commandments as Memnet. And become a Vulcan high priestess in the first Star Trek film.
The movie is perhaps best known for the striptease Hayworth performs for King Harod in the film’s final moments. It’s the pivotal act in an important religious event, and once again Hayworth was pushing the boundaries of the times. The colorful dance of the seven veils was once voted one of the top 100 scenes in Hollywood.
All of the films are presented in their original aspect ratio. There’s a mix of widescreen and full-frame presentations. All but one are in color. The films don’t really show any signs of restoration. There are more than a few instances where colors and brightness levels appear to pulse like the old macro-vision tapes did if you tried to hook them up through a VCR. The prints themselves are in pretty good condition. There’s only one film per disc, so there’s no real serious compression artifact going on here.
All of the films are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. The films work pretty well. There’s not much distortion, and the dialog comes through just fine. The musical numbers suffer somewhat from the low fidelity of the master recordings. I expect they were once quite large and dynamic for their time.
Patricia Clarkson On Tonight And Every Night: (4:20) She talks about Hayworth and points out some of the style of the movie.
Introducing Miss Sadie Thompson With Patricia Clarkson: (4:23) Again the actress talks about Hayworth and the film.
Martin Scorsese And Baz Luhrman on Gilda: (16:05) The two filmmakers talk about the style of the film. Scorsese is far more interesting here. Luhrman always brings the focus back to himself and his films.
Baz Luhrman On Cover Girl: (4:18) Not as informative as the others.
The release comes with a plea from Hayworth’s daughter for the Alzheimer’s research fund. It’s obviously a cause near and dear to her heart. The disease was pretty much undiagnosed for many years. It was confused with senility or just plain growing old. The Hayworth family has done a lot to bring the disease into the light at a time when most folks hadn’t even heard about it.
The collection itself is a fine tribute to the World War II era pin-up girl. I would venture to say that there are a lot of guys who would have killed for a collection like this in those days. “Besides, didn’t you ever hear of a thing called justifiable homicide?”