Judge Ike Oden is purely a stage title. His real name is Ikearita Cansinoden.
These films highlight Rita's charm, grace, and allure as a dancer, dramatic actress and vamp—while charting the exceptional range of her career.
The Films of Rita Hayworth collects five distinctive, varied films from the redheaded sexbomb actress' career (three for the first time, according to the box).
Cover Girl has Rita Hayworth (Lady From Shanghai) as Rusty, a showgirl at a Brooklyn Nightclub run by her boyfriend/dance partner, Danny (Gene Kelly, Singing in the Rain). When Rusty unexpectedly becomes a Vanity Fair cover model, her growing ambitions threaten her relationship.
In Tonight and Every Night a London nightclub refuses to close its doors during World War II despite nightly raids by the Nazis. Rita Hayworth is Ros, an American showgirl who befriends fresh faced Tommy (Mark Platt, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers) and Judy (Janet Blair, Burn, Witch, Burn!). The trio make a pact that is threatened when Ros falls for British Airman Paul (Lee Bowman, Buck Privates), which leads to the jealousy of Tommy, whose envy could destroy the trio's friendships.
Hayworth is the titular sexpot Gilda. She marries a Casino owner (George Macready, Paths of Glory) to the chagrin of con man-turned-floor-manager Johnny Ferrel (Glenn Ford, Superman: The Movie), who used to be her fiancé. Gilda engages the men in a game of seduction, deceit, and torture in the seedy underbelly of Buenos Aires in this film noir.
Miss Sadie Thompson (Hayworth) is a free-wheeling gal with a past. She winds up in post-World War II Samoa, where she attracts the attention of an entire Army base, especially Sgt. Phil O'hara (Aldo Ray, The Green Berets). This brings the area's high powered missionary (Jose Ferrer, Dune) to try and forcibly remove her from the island, convinced the vixen's history is one of the most lurid vice of all. Sexual and religious tensions ensue.
Salome (Hayworth) is a Princess of Jerusalem living in Rome. Her life of indulgence is cut short by Caesar Tiberius (Cedric Hardwicke, Rope), who uproots her back to Jerusalem. Here, she is romanced by Roman Commander Claudius (Stewart Granger, North To Alaska) and lusted after by her stepfather, King Herod (Charles Laughton, The Hunchback of Notre Dame). This triangle of love and desire is exacerbated by the growing influence of John The Baptist (Alan Bedel, Day of the Jackal), whose religion challenges the depraved ways of the throne. Salome must decide to fight for family, love, or the Holy Spirit in this epic adaptation of the classic Biblical story.
If you're a lover of classic cinema, you'll find five uniformly entertaining, quality films in The Films of Rita Hayworth. They're drunk with sex, violence, dance, songs, glamour and melodrama—everything a cineaste needs for a nutritious, balanced boxset.
Cover Girl is the best musical of the set. The story of the small time girl whose dreams can't quite fulfill her is well worn territory, but the film efficiently spins narrative flair; interlacing flashbacks, comedy skits, and lavish musical numbers as a means of serving the story.
Gene Kelly does some of his best work as the blue collar entertainer Danny, emitting some intense chemistry with Hayworth, who hones an innocent-but-vivacious performance to near perfection (playing two characters, no less). The musical set pieces pack a ton of emotional punch—Kelly captures his character's love and inner turmoil through some fine soft shoe stepping, while Hayworth attacks numbers with grace and charisma. Cover Girl is an example of the genre at its finest, its only drawback a running time too long in the tooth.
Tonight and Every Night never quite reaches the heights of success Cover Girl manages, but distinguishes itself nonetheless. The grimness of World War II London is wonderfully juxtaposed by the baroque, chaotic world of the nightclub. Unlike Cover Girl, the musical numbers exist less to serve the story and more to break up the plot and dialogue scenes. The narrative and the set pieces never quite sync up, though this might be intentional. The nightclub is an escape valve for the war time melodrama Hayworth and her all singing, all dancing friends endure.
Rita gives a solid performance as a love struck American girl, creating a great foil for supporting characters Tommy and Judy. Her storyline is bogged down by her romance with British Airman Paul. Lee Bowmen's performance is easily the dullest of the entire set, causing their romance to feel forced. When tap dancing nerd Tommy objects to their coupling, it feels utterly justified. To top it off, a tragic final act twist resolves the plotlines most unsatisfactorily. Still, I dare anyone to object to the leggy musical numbers contained herein, which, while lacking genuine emotion, emit enough glitz and glamour to satisfy the most jaded of musical fans.
If Cover Girl is the best musical on the set, Gilda is the best overall film on the set. Hayworth commands the film in a performance that layers sex appeal with underlying tragedy, forging a film femme fatale to rival Laura or even Hayworth's Lady From Shanghai. Glenn Ford's turn as a con artist to a gangster anti-hero is nothing short of brilliant. He is a fast talking thug whose mean streak is stretched wider and wider by his passion for Gilda. George Macready is their formidable antagonist, a waifish, conniving crime lord with a fetish for sword play, a characteristic that belies his sick sexual repression.
The film can be read as a meditation on bisexuality between Hayworth, Ford, and Macready's characters, but is just as easily consumed as a slickly directed film noir classic (by Charles Vidor, who also did Cover Girl). Musical enthusiasts get Hayworth covering "Blame It On Mame" in haunting acoustic guitar style and again in big-band, stripteasing form.
Miss Sadie Thompson is a film that's very hard to like. The film goes out of its way to make the audience painfully uncomfortable, blending a searing, sweaty Technicolor palette with claustrophobic sets and clamoring, desperate characters. While on the surface it might seem like a frothy, sexy melodrama, Miss Sadie Thompson finds its zeal in lambasting a male dominated society, pitting Hayworth's Sadie between sexually repressed men of the gun and cloth.
While the film is bleak, Hayworth gives a blistering performance as the doomed sexpot, and Jose Ferrer walks the line between deplorable and respectable seamlessly. The film's weakest link is Aldo Ray, whose gravel-voiced Sergeant represents Sadie's shot at redemption. Given his drunken penchant for pawing and general stupidity, this is especially sad, but that Aldo is so uncomfortable at playing a romantic lead makes his scenes almost unwatchable. This criticism is probably more of a compliment for Aldo (which is why I rank him above Lee Bowmen), but there's such a thing as too uncomfortable, a risk that might alienate the audience to the point of no return.
Finally, Salome is a well-paced, entertaining Bible epic. Despite having the title character, Hayworth's Salome often takes a backseat to the plight of Claudius and John The Baptist.
Alan Badel plays John with almost insane religious fervor, making the character a little scary if taken out of context. Stewart Granger plays Claudius, all square jaw and charisma, making for a great onscreen hero. Laughton is greasy and gross as Herod and Judith Anderson (Laura) is equally despicable as his conniving wife. Basil Sydney (Treasure Island) plays Pontius Pilate as an arrogant old man whose rise to power is counterbalanced by the rise of a new religion beyond his comprehension—a complex performance for a character that could easily be played one-dimensionally.
Somewhere in the mix, the sexy Salome gets lost. Hayworth isn't given a whole lot to do in the film besides pout and perform a striptease in the final reel. The work she does is fine, but limited, which doesn't quite gel with the fact that she's the title character and has first billing. Despite this obvious flaw, the film is an utterly entertaining entry in the Bible film cycle that was popularized in this period; boasting a great cast, decent script, and lush visuals. Also, did I mention Hayworth does another striptease?
Sony brings The Films of Rita Hayworth to shelves sporting shiny, restored transfers (supervised by The Film Foundation). Given the age of the movies, the majority of the image quality is quite solid. The three strip Technicolor visuals are especially eye popping. Slight grain and scratches are to be expected, but I'd be lying if I said the films didn't look great. The stereo mixes are equally impressive considering their age. Given the impressive technical specs, one assumes this is the definitive home video release of these films, barring any future Blu-ray releases (which seem unlikely).
There isn't a whole lot in the way of special features, besides some brief introductory featurettes for every film (except for Salome, inexplicably). Patricia Clarkson hosts Tonight and Every Night and Miss Sadie Thomspon briefly and with pre-scripted boringness. Thank God for Baz Luhrmann, who tackles the history and influence of Cover Girl and Gilda with all the amphetamine motor mouthing of Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese. Speaking of Scorsese, The Departed director makes an appearance with Luhrmann on Gilda, counterbalancing the hyperactive Aussie with his own hyperactive film history perspective. While these segments aren't exactly Hearts of Darkness or The Battle For Citizen Kane, the introductions are welcome, if brief, inclusions that fill in a lot of Hayworth trivia. Trailers for each film are also included.
Finally, a note about the packaging. The Films Of Rita Hayworth has a sporty cardboard slipcase upon first glance, but contain some extremely stiff, hard plastic push spindles beneath its shiny surface. These disc holders are very uncooperative, making the removal of each disc a chore unto itself. Proceed with caution and you should be fine, but don't be surprised if something—be it the case or a disc—cracks, breaks, or shatters in the ongoing struggle.
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