10 October 2002 | petershelleyau
On the orders of Columbia studio head Harry Cohn, Rita Hayworth was transformed from a latin B player to an A picture love goddess, her high spirits passing as all-American in titles like Cover Girl and Gilda. However the curse of the beautiful is that they become possessions by collectors, just as Rita told screenwriter of Gilda, Virginia Van Upp - "Men fell in love with Gilda but woke up with me". Her greatest collector was Prince Aly Khan, and the idea of capturing a movie star predated Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier in the 1950's. However the Hayworth/Khan marriage failed and Rita returned to Hollywood. Perhaps in a depression, unhappy with the vehicle provided for her comeback role, or simply older, Hayworth's sparkle had dimmed.
That's not to say that she doesn't look beautiful in the film. Whilst not lit as gorgeously as she was by Rudolph Mate in Gilda, she has a moment here standing in repose in shadow, smoking. But even with her character being a recent widow, her voice is dead and she carries herself like a somnambulist. She is best when she is dancing as she does twice here. In the first, Trinidad Lady, is the Carmen Rita - barefoot and tossing her dress. The framing distances us - director Vincent Sherman may be more interested in the crowd around the stage, but she looks happy performing. The second, I've Been Kissed Before, has obvious parallels to her Put The Blame on Mame from Gilda. She wears a shimmery black dress as fetishistic as the famous black satin sheath, the number is schematically arranged to present her as a tramp to later be rewarded with a face slap, even the choreography recalls that of Mame. However her announced intention to dance, even if contextualised, is a dramatic change of characterisation. She gives us the Gilda we want, and not the woman we have accepted up to this time - the one we have woken up with.
The Gilda connection is made in the film by the casting of Glenn Ford as her romantic partner, thankfully treating her a little kinder this time around, Steven Geray in an amusing supporting role as her employer, Alexander Scourby as a pseudo-George Macready but without the menace, the locale being Trinidad as Gilda was set in Buenos Aires and a plot about German-ish hoods investing in shady activities that pose a threat to security. Ford tells us he was a pilot in the war and since he isn't old enough to mean WW1, we know that Upp and her co-writers have written their screenplay in a rush, explaining Hayworth's own reluctance to participate.
Scourby is give the witty lines like "Some people are mellowed by drink. Have another" and "At the risk of dislocating your personality, try to be calm". He has a funny exchange with Ford about Hayworth - "I think you look lovelier in this color than any other. Don't you agree?" "There's a few shades I haven't seen her in yet". Valerie Bettis who created Rita's dances also appears as the wife of one of the Germans and her drunken energy is very welcome. She has a great laugh and even gets to parody Hayworth's dancing at one point, and Juanita Moore is good as Rita's maid. Sherman provides an exterior of an airport with seemingly limitless open skies, and gives Scourby's interior an imposing staircase.
This film is not a bomb, plot holes notwithstanding. Sherman moves things along and at least Hayworth isn't the embarrassment she was in the Hall of Mirrors sequence in The Lady from Shanghai. Perhaps Aly Khan took the best of her and Harry Cohn was left to salvage her career with the little she had left to give.