Happy Birthday, Rita Hayworth

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She was a newbie (pretty much) when she appeared as Judith, the wife of the hated flier MacPherson (Richard Barthelmess), in Only Angels Have Wings (directed by Howard Hawks), but she’s terrific in the part. The part is deceptively simple, it seems like it would be a cinch. However, there are pitfalls everywhere in that script (especially for her character), none of which Hayworth falls into. You totally believe that she would be “the one” who came closest to winning Geoff’s heart (played by Cary Grant at his cranky best), not because she’s gorgeous and bodacious, or not only because of that – but because she treats him with an egalitarian calmness that I imagine he would find relaxing and suitable for his particular temperament. No girlie histrionics for him. A good pal with the body of a pin-up, the Howard Hawks Ideal.

Finally, in the scene when she does lose it due to the fact that her husband doesn’t trust her, and she gets drunk, staggering around behind the bar looking for the corkscrew (“Lock the doors. Judith’s lost her equilibrium”, she giggles, in a moment that manages to be both adorable and pathetic, all at the same time), and Cary Grant lets her have it, finally dunking her head in the water to sober her up – she realizes: Yes, he’s right – I AM only thinking of myself.

In other words, she plays a good woman in that film, a woman who would be a good mate, a perfect wife and partner, and she is also capable of critical thinking – even when it involves her own faults – and in that scene she is able to take a step back and realize: “Wait a second. The problem here is ME.” How often do movie goddesses ever get to have a moment of realization like that?

Imagine how that role could have been played, the cliche it could have been. Hayworth, new to dramatic parts at that time in her career, is more than up for the task.

Apparently, she had a hard time bringing herself to tears in her final scene, so Howard Hawks, ever the practical man, made her come in from the rain for that final confrontation, so her face would be all wet, which gives the impression of tears, and lets Hayworth off the hook of having to bring tears to her eyes. Producing tears is obviously something actors may worry about, and she certainly did, but if you have the Impression of tears, then what does it matter if they come organically or not? Hawks got that, and he helped Hayworth to get that too – and it’s a very effective scene, and I couldn’t care less if she the actress was actually crying or not.

Highly under-rated actress. Yes, beloved as a sex bomb and babe – but under-rated indeed as an actress with some CHOPS.

Clip from Only Angels Have Wings below – when Cary Grant gives her a dousing of water and a harsh talking-to. The scene comes at the 8 minute mark.

Happy birthday, Rita!

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6 Responses to Happy Birthday, Rita Hayworth

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Happy Birthday, Rita Hayworth | The Sheila Variations -- Topsy.com

  2. jennchez says:

    Love love loved her in Seperate Tables. I agree she was never used to her full potential.
    About once a week my seven year old daughter and I watch her in Pal Joey, my daughters all time favorite musical :)

  3. sheila says:

    Jennchez – I also think it’s harder than it looks to be a sex-bomb, as she was in Gilda and others. She is doing some very good, very specific ACTING in Gilda – terrific, actually – she doesn’t miss a beat. It’s not just about how gorgeous she is, it’s about how she uses herself, how she plays each moment. I can’t stand it when beautiful actresses are “written off” in that way. She’s not a model, standing there being pretty. When she sings “Put the Blame on Mame”, yes, she is sexy – taking the glove off, wow!! – but it’s not a still photograph, she has to actually be DOING something with that song, and boy, does she ever.

    Same thing in Only Angels Have Wings. I think Rita Hayworth was, in real life, quite tormented sexually – she had been abused, all that – and I don’t think she ever thought she was beautiful. Howard Hawks (if I’m remembering correctly) tells the story about how new she was to acting at the time of filming, and quite obedient to his direction – knowing she needed that help (very smart of her) – and he says that obviously the dress they put her in was quite deliberate. That drooping clinging dress that emphasizes her breasts without even one glimpse of cleavage – but she didn’t know how to “work” the dress. She wasn’t a clotheshorse. She wasn’t, in real life, a preening self-aware sex bomb. She just happened to have that body. So in the one scene where she comes into Cary Grant’s office, their first conversation in the film, Hawks told her to come in, close the door, and then stand with her back against the door, her hands behind her back.

    Obviously, that pose – seemingly very natural and a way normal people stand – helped emphasize her shape, her curves, her breasts – but without being too overt about it, which wouldn’t have worked in the context of that character.

    I like her so much. Think she’s terrific!

  4. jennchez says:

    We watched The Lady from Shanghai last night, while the movie threw me a bit Rita Hayworth was amazing!! She still had her shimmery goddess vibe going on but she held her own with Orson Welles down to their final frame together.

    I remember seeing a picture of her online a while back, I believe it was on her way to marry Aly Khan, she is standing on the deck of a ship surrounded by people and she looked so alone it was heartbreaking. The quote that she made “men go to bed with Gilda then wake up with me”. Talk about heartbreaking.

  5. sheila says:

    Oh she’s awesome in Lady From Shanghai. I love the blonde. She’s terrific in that movie. I love the last scene, with the shattering mirrors – even though I know Orson Welles was very unhappy with the music that was added onto it. I still think it works.

    Yes, I believe she was quite an unhappy person. I don’t know that much about her. Just bare bones stuff.

    Is there a good biography??

  6. jennchez says:

    I’ve looked but all the bio blurbs I’ve read about her on amazon seem subpar. It really is a shame.

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