The years of the second world war have been remembered most recently as the years of the "greatest generation". (My father is one of them, I'm proud to note. He was a pilot and flew troop carrier missions). And every red-blooded, armied or navied-up young man had a picture of a starlet in his kitbag to remind him of "what he was fighting for". Of all the girlfriend's of the greatest generation era, Rita Hayworth was probably the most prized, the most desired, the most universally loved. Was it because of her delectable looks? Her immense dancing abilities? Her raven-haired temptresiosity-ness? Perhaps. Yet I think it also had something to do with her vulnerability. What I see in Hayworth--and I think others did too--is her frailty, her own discomfort with her bombshell persona, the sense of a beautiful girl who desires and requires protection from a world bent on picking her to pieces.
This is largely due to the fact that that's exactly who she was. Born Marguarite Casino to a Spanish father who who had a dance act with her mother, a former Ziegfield girl, she early on became part of the family act, replacing her mother as her father's sole partner when she was in her very early teens. Because she matured physically early, Daddy used to pretend to audiences that young Margaurite was his wife. And the idea apparently appealed to him, as it wasn't long until he began sleeping with his daughter. I don't think it's exaggerating to say that the trauma of the sexually abused girl is thinly veiled at best in Hayworth's persona. Though she became a living symbol of sexual decadence, she is--I think--at her least convincing as "Carmen" (she played the role in 1948) and at her most truthful when, for instance, she gets that look on her face after Glenn Ford slaps her at the end of the below clip. Her sweetness and lost-ness resonate more truthfully for me in "Cover Girl" than does her scheming, icy-blonde turn in her soon-to-be ex-husband Orson Welles's "Lady From Shanghai". Typical too was the sad outcome of her international celebrity--bad marriages to cold powerful men (after Welles the playboy Aly Khan and then the quite seriously f-d up singer Dick Haymes) followed by early-onset Alzheimer's (cruelly, the press photographed her haggard later self as often as they could find her and proudly published what had become of the former pin-up girl. Thanks, fellas.)
The below clip is from "Gilda", directed by "Cover GIrls" Charles Vidor. "Gilda" is a terrifically watchable, albeit silly, fusion of film noir, musical and morality play. The story feels improvised--as if the writer, Marion Parsonette (how's that for a period monicker?), was holed up churning out the pages while the shooting was going down elsewhere on the Columbia lot , having not quite figured out where he was headed as he typed each new scene. (Actually, quite a few movies of the time went into production without a completed script so there is some likelihood that this was the case. See John Houseman's account of the making of "The Blue Dahlia" in his memoir "Run Through"). There is a wonderful performance by George Macready as Gilda's husband--a spooky "professional" gambler, and a stiff one from Glenn Ford as the man who he hires to "watch" his insatiable wife--and who had a previous relationship with her. Some of the dialogue is memorably nasty--the reocurring motif ("I hate you. Hate is a very exciting emotion. I hate you so much, I might die from it" followed, naturally, by a deep and sensuous kiss) rates very high in the nasty noir verbal pantheon. Vidor shoots the interiors of Macready's house (it's supposed to be in Buenos Aires--by way of Gower of course) in a very moody, expressive way--the set clearly was vast and he was much less stiff then many of the periods directors when confronted with real space to work with. And in spite of the film's shortcomings (a terrible happy ending prevents the film from being thought seriously of as noir--it really ought to have ended in gunfire and lustful embraces) it remains, for me, the performance of Hayworth's that is most expressive of her peculiar blend of lust-provoking siren and damaged little girl.
This is the justly famous "striptease" scene--the song is "Put The Blame On Mame"--and it truly is the cinematic equivalent of a viagra overdose. You'll see. But watch that look on her face at the end of the clip and see who Hayworth--I mean "Gilda" truly is. As she once mournfully observed about herself, "Men go to bed with Gilda, but they wake up with me."