Blood and Sand (1941)

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There’s little doubt Blood and Sand was a follow up to The Mark of Zorro (1940) meant to capitalize on the lucrative romantic pairing of devilishly handsome heartthrob Tyrone Power and winsome ingenue Linda Darnell. But what it sets out to do, it achieves through an ability to capture us in a joyously Hollywood confection. It pulls out all the stops to establish Spain for the moviegoing audience. Flamenca, guitar, castanets, swirling skirts, and sashaying ladies are all present bursting forth from the screen with multicolored gaiety and merriment.

The picture in straightforward fashion charters the rise of a young boy into a renowned matador with aims at commanding the grandest stage in all of Seville. Juan Gallardo (Power), buoyed by a tight-knit band of friends and propelled by lifelong ambition, is ultimately able to realize his dreams and to garner all the laurels lavished on the man of the hour.

Most important of all, he’s finally able to marry the girl whom he’s loved since childhood, the virginal beauty Carmen Espinosa (Darnell). She has dutifully waited for his triumphant return when he serenades her with a full band and presents her a wedding dress to pronounce his everlasting love. They’re young and deliriously happy.

While initially maligned as a fifth-rate talent, now the famed purveyor of public opinion, Natalio Curro, christens Gallardo the finest matador in all the land. Laird Cregar is more than capable as the pompous bullfighting critic who relishes the spotlight as well as his reputation as a tastemaker.

Likewise, everyone wants Juan to be the godfather of their child. He is in high demand and he catches everyone’s eye. Namely, the recently returned socialite Doña Sol des Muire (Rita Hayworth) coming from irrefutably high-class stock. She has her pick of the litter and she immediately becomes diverted by this dashing matador tossing him down a red rose in return for a couple tokens of his goodwill.

Meanwhile, Carmen remains faithful by his side praying every day he enters into the ring to do his work. She dotes on him with breakfast, reading the headlines about his finest hour, and remains his constant companion.  However, the allure of the “other woman” ensnares him and his fate is all but sealed. Just as he baits the bull, she soon has him reeling much the same. But the only real person to blame is himself.

His wife is betrayed in one heart-breaking confrontation, his finances are in disarray, his temper has alienated many of his closest allies, and his success in the ring has begun to falter. None of these plot developments are unforeseen. On the contrary, we expect them. As his mother reminds him, taking cues from the Biblical parables, “One can’t build on sand.” Because everything you worked so hard to erect will just as easily come tumbling down when the downpour hits.

It’s as much his own fault is it is the fickle masses who are so unforgiving. Pretty girls like Doña just as easily move on to a new toy, this time Juan’s lifelong rival Manolo (Anthony Quinn). And of course, Curro has been quick to pronounce the new man as the latest shining comet of the new season. He fails to add that comets burn brightly only to fizzle out in a nose dive. The tragic metaphor is a little too obvious.

But again, the picture is all spectacle and it’s ultimately bolstered by lavish costumes and the early shades of Technicolor offering a seminal example of 3-strip Hollywood opulence. Rouben Mamoulian’s artistry in mise en scene from his days with the stage are on display, played out to the nth degree. The screen and the stars are easy on the eyes. The director purportedly kept cans of spray paint on hand to touch up any necessary blasé patches with enhanced color. However he achieved it, Blood and Sand generally works.

True, bullfighting always seems like a barbarous pastime even as Hollywood can’t show that much. It does feel like a modernized incarnation of gladiatorial battles.  Just as the public is petty, it’s even a little difficult to feel sorry for our protagonist, though Linda Darnell, continually surrounded by Roman Catholic imagery, remains as the last vestige of saintly virtue.  She’s never been so pure.

The same cannot be said for Rita Hayworth in her secondary role, which in itself is a rather strange circumstance since she had yet to reach the heights of her later career and pictures like Gilda (1946). Tyrone Power could coast on his looks and charisma alone and he pretty much does.

3.5/5 Stars

The Strawberry Blonde (1941)

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The opening shots of The Strawberry Blonde are not unlike Easter gatherings at my family’s house. Croquet in the backyard…well, that’s about it. But that’s precisely the distinction that’s being made as Raoul Walsh develops a dichotomy between two societies on either side of a brick wall.

On one side the Yale college boys play guitar as their gals all gussied up sing “Meet Me in St. Louis” after a rousing game of croquet. They are eye-catching and the frivolously well-off members of the elite. We think of them and their gayly prim and proper ways when we conjure up archetypal mental pictures of the so-called “Naughty Nineties.”

On the other end, two working men play a good old-fashioned game of horseshoes. They’re a different type of folk. A Greek barber (George Tobias hidden behind an accent and a mustache) and our pugnacious protagonist Biff Grimes. It’s not a typical Cagney picture but it’s still a typical hard-nosed Cagney and that’s the joy of it.

To use his vernacular, he’s a real hairpin. The kind of guy who never takes nothin’ from nobody but has made a habit of getting stepped on his entire life. Whether it’s the girls he’s missed out on or the fights he’s lost or any number of other footfalls. A 5-year stint in prison springs to mind.

Still, he can’t believe he missed out on the flirtatious, bodacious strawberry blonde Virginia Bush (Rita Hayworth), what seems like so many years ago now. But as was his habit, Biff’s friendly rival Hugo Barnstead (Jack Carson) ended up the lucky man.

Following their fateful first encounter, Biff gets continually saddled with Amy Lind (Olivia De Havilland) which obviously would be far from a disappointment with any sensible man. That doesn’t stop Biff from being sore. He needs a house call to get it through his thick skull that he really has a life to be grateful for.

This is the Epstein Brothers’ glorious revamping of a failed Gary Cooper vehicle from 1933, in this case, made to tailor fit James Cagney. The actor returned to his old studio, Warner Bros., looking for a change of pace to get him as far away from gangster fare as possible. Likewise, director Raoul Walsh was looking for a change after the riveting but tragic drama High Sierra (1941).

Given the results, it’s little surprise that the director considered it one of his personal favorites among the many pictures he helmed over the years. The quality cast starts with Cagney but we really have four superb talents at its core rounded out by Olivia De Havilland, a vivacious Rita Hayworth, and that old happy-go-lucky jokester Jack Carson. Alan Hale fills in as Cagney’s derelict father who’s always finding himself getting thrown out of the local saloon by the ear.

By now I all but take James Wong Howe’s photography for granted but as per usual, The Strawberry Blonde looks two-tone drop dead gorgeous as it lights a world with nostalgic hues of turn-of-the-century New York. Whether moonlight, streetlights, or candlelight, it is a film that is totally evocative of a bygone era.

Where men removed their coats to partake in fisticuffs. The same men humored their best girls with Sunday walks in the afternoon while local bands paraded through the park their brassy tunes wafting through the air. The barbershop subculture was in full bloom, quartets and all. Likewise, modernity was coming into its own with nitrous oxide, horseless carriages, electric lights, women’s suffrage, and the art of spaghetti imported from Italy.

In some paradoxical way while being nostalgic it still finds a way to feel surprisingly progressive particularly through the character of Olivia De Havilland with all her so-called improprieties. A nurse who winks, smokes, and whose mother was a bloomer girl and her aunt was an actress. At least on the surface. Maybe she’s not quite like that.

Meanwhile, Biff is always trying to save face his entire life and as a married man, he’s trying to save face with his concerned wife. He lives with discontentedness instead of satisfaction but just as the times keep on changing, Biff does too, realizing how lucky he is.

What makes the film itself a charming change of pace is the fact that it’s not concerned so much with one singular defining moment of drama but an entire life and it elicits a connection with a time and place even as we feel a sense of pity for Biff. It’s not a bleak film, more of a wistful one, and with wistfulness, a lighter more nostalgic tone can still be evoked.

Even to the end when Cagney takes on the masses it’s great sporting fun and he gets in his licks like any of his gangster pictures but he does it with a loving wife and a life to be wholly satiated by.

4/5 Stars

“Don’t be a hypocrite Virginia. Spiritually you winked.” ~ Olivia De Havilland as Amy Lind

Review: Gilda (1946)

Gilda_trailer_hayworth1If you’re worried about Johnny Farrell, don’t be. I hate him~Gilda

And he hates you. That’s very apparent. But hate can be a very exciting emotion. Very exciting. Haven’t you noticed that?…There’s a heat in it that one can feel. Didn’t you feel it tonight? ~Ballin

Gilda became synonymous with Rita Hayworth and for good reason. She was the embodiment of so many of the things found desirable by many men from a certain age. Frisky. Sultry. Beguiling. Teasing men, leading them on, and leaving them. Hating them as much as she loves them. That’s where the passion derives from — very volatile beginnings.

It’s true that Hayworth’s playfully ravishing seductress was forever immortalized in Shawshank Redemption and really in the mind’s eye of anyone who ever has seen her singing “Put the Blame on Mame” even once. She’s also, consequently, the epitome of the deadly lineage of femme fatales at times both tragic and destructive, alluring and lively. It’s difficult not to get drawn in like a moth to the flame.

But underlying such a performance is something a little more disheartening as this is only a cinematic depiction. It is not reality and yet it brings to mind a paraphrased quote that I will attribute to Hayworth, perhaps recalling her turbulent union with Orson Welles or maybe all the men who found their way into her life. “They go to bed with Gilda and wake up with me.”

The implications, of course, are far-reaching suggesting just how much this fawned over female ideal was a pure fabrication. It’s not real. Rita Hayworth could never measure up to that fantasy nor should she have to. Because while Gilda’s tantalizing as a cinematic siren, in real life she could never exist. Her passions impinge on her entire existence where she sees hatred, lust, and love all in synonymous terms. She hates Johnny and she loves him. She doesn’t want him and she does for those very reasons.

While not to downplay the negative impact the role may have had for Hayworth’s personal life, there’s no doubt of its cultural clout even today and it helps make this film-noir directed by Charles Vidor a high water mark of the dark genre for the very reasons mentioned before. Jo Eisinger’s script is also a strikingly perverse number as it begins to draw up the relationships between Gilda and her men.

Because it doesn’t end with her. Gilda needs others to play with and she’s given the perfect counterparts in Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) a man who willfully counters anything she offers up in the areas of sexual tension, embittered ridicule, or psychological warfare. It’s like they enjoy to torture each other — they enjoy to be able to make each other reel and fume. It’s all part of the twisted game they play of love and hate. He seethes with a vindictive coiled anger just waiting to be unleashed and he lets it go time after time. Sometimes upon provocation and other times out of sheer malice.

It all finds roots in a past we can only presume about and it’s true that all three of our leads are shrouded in some mystery when we’re introduced to them. First, Johnny Farrell a smart aleck gambler who gets himself a job as the right-hand crony for Ballin Mundson (George Macready) a man who is far more than a simple casino magnate. His business dealings run a little broader and more clandestine than he initially lets on.

Farrell’s a quick learner and ambitious so he moves up the ranks and soon he’s got the most prized position by Ballin’s side as his closest confidante and most importantly of all he’s there to watch over the other man’s wife — his favorite treasure to flaunt — the one and only Gilda.

It’s in that unspoken past that Gilda and Johnny learned to disdain each other and it stokes the flames of their relationship. It’s brutality mixed with sensuality which is at one time disconcerting but at the same time hard to pull away from. Again, moths to the flame.  It’s so wickedly twisted with rage and passion and all those human emotions that make us despise one another one moment only to make us no be able to live without each other in the next.

At a certain point, there’s no longer any sense in trying to draw up sides whether it’s feeling sorry for Gilda or empathetic toward Farrell and the thoroughly uncomfortable position he has been placed in as keeper of the bosses wife. Both of them have the makeup of true noir protagonists.

Otherwise, Rudolph Mate’s gorgeous imagery is absolutely fantastic and is certainly worthy of simply being marveled at on multiple occasions for its delicious compositions and use of shadow. Hayworth is rendered even more beguiling and Macready becomes an even more perplexing figure masked in darkness. Meanwhile, the Carnival celebrations are cast as stunning spectacle and over the top extravagance that’s also rudely disrupted by murder.

One could take it as a metaphor suggesting that the post-war era had commenced with a flourish but that cannot completely get rid of the sour taste left over from the war. A veil of darkness still remains.  Along similar lines, there’s a bit of Casablanca’s tension running through this film, and its atmosphere, while not quite on par with its predecessor, still rings with a lot of character.

The roulette wheels are in fine form and the establishment is full of its own rogue gallery of humorous and foreboding figures alike. The always lovable Uncle Pio provides a dose of good humor but there are also treacherous Germans, numerous rich boy toys, and a surprisingly civil government agent who all make a habit of frequenting the most popular casino in Buenos Aires.

It might be true what Johnny says about gambling and women not mixing but then again with the lens of film-noir they prove to be a high octane combination, representing vice and sensuality, two of its most readily available commodities.

4.5/5 Stars

Review: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

ShawshankRedemptionMoviePoster (1)This film originated from a Stephen King novella called Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. The actress actually does play into this movie and her famed hair flip from Gilda even makes a memorable appearance. However, the shortening of the title not only simplifies things, but it refocuses the film on what it is all about. You guessed it. At its core, Shawshank is about the redemption of one man who would never let his hope or ardent spirit be quelled. That man is the memorable, but generally unassuming, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins).

His story began back in 1947 when he was put on trial after being accused of riddling his unfaithful wife and her lover with bullets in his drunken rage. We see bits and pieces of what happened, but not everything. Andy quietly maintains his innocence, but he is dealt two back-to-back life sentences in the Shawshank state penitentiary.

When he gets there initially he looks to be a pushover, not ready for the dark recesses and the harsh reality that is prison life. In his typically smooth mode of voice-over, Morgan Freeman, as camp grifter Red, recalls when he first set eyes on this man. He didn’t know it then but Andy would prove to be a life-changing acquaintance, and he also proved to have more guts than Red was expecting.

They first cross paths when Andy comes to Red inquiring about getting a rock hammer and Rita Hayworth. Red obliges and these trinkets allow Andy to shape rocks to form a chess set. The poster goes up on his wall and others soon follow. He’s a man who always strives to stay busy, and he never lets his circumstances get him down.

It doesn’t come easy though because the local prison gang christened “the sisters” are used to getting their way with any inmate they cross paths with. Andy is not one such individual, and he pays the price, receiving beatings on multiple occasions. Still, he keeps on living and ultimately makes a name for himself by providing tax advice for one of the most notorious guards. It’s after this specific moment when he wins a round of beers for his mates that they begin to see the extraordinary individual in their midst. He goes by the credo, “Get busy living or get busy dying.”

Following his own words to a tee, Andy begins to prove his worth and earn respect as he gives tax advice to many of the prison attendants and guards. Even the hypocritical warden uses his services to keep his finances and office in order.

Andy is also transferred from doing grunt work to helping the aged prisoner Brooks in the library. It’s a step up and unprecedented in the history of the prison, but then Andy is truly special. After Brooks is released and tragedy strikes his life, Andy continues to improve things. He regularly writes his representative for funding so he can get more books and his work finally pays off. He also sets up a program so prisoners and workers alike can gain the equivalent of a high school education.

As the years pass, the prisoners get older and the posters change on Andy’s wall from first Rita, to Marilyn, and finally Raquel. About that time, a young prisoner named Tommy finds himself in prison and all the old timers like his energy. Andy resolves to get the young man an education and Tommy, in turn, shares some potentially life changing evidence with Andy. But it all comes to naught. The warden maintains his tyrannical reign and the defenseless Tommy is struck down.

Andy begins to lose some of his privileges as the warden starts to clamp down on him again by throwing him into solitary confinement for two months. When he gets out, Andy’s hope is still alive, sharing with Red about his dream of someday going to Zihuatanejo in Mexico to live in solitude. Red thinks it’s all folly, but agrees to do something for him if he ever gets out.

Then during an upcoming roll call, all of a sudden, just like that, Andy Dufresne is gone for good. To add insult to injury, he used his business acumen to stick it to the warden who is investigated by the police. Andy has the last laugh.

After so many rejections and denials, Red finally gets his parole and he looks like a mirror image of Brooks, a man who grew to know the Shawshank as his only way of life. It looks pretty fast and grim on the outside now. But Red has a purpose that Brooks did not, in Andy. He keeps his promise to Andy and rendezvous with his old friend.

Shawshank is a thoroughly engaging film and it works because of the performances of Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Robbins acts as such a bright light despite his solemnity and subtlety. He is unceasingly upright;  the perfect contrast to this prison which is a vile, disgusting place full of corruption and violence. Freeman is the cynic and in many ways, he stands in for the audience. He wants to believe in a man like Andy as much as us, but the world initially tells him he cannot. However, Andy proves Red and the world wrong, by redeeming what has fallen. I can never get over that truth because it is such a powerful message told in such an engaging way.

4.5/5 Stars

Cover Girl (1944)

5fff5-covergirlmpRusty Parker (Rita Hayworth) is a chorus girl at Danny McGuire’s place (Gene Kelly), however she has the chance of a lifetime to be the cover girl of a major magazine. She is going places with a rich suitor who wants to hire her and then propose marriage. Rusty neglects her old job and it leaves Danny dejected and angry. He knows that Rusty has a great future in front of her but he cannot stand to break up their team that includes their mutual friend Genius (Phil Silvers). At first Rusty does not understand her true feelings and rashly decides to get married. However, much like her grandmother before her, Rusty realizes in the nick of time how she feels.

This Technicolor film has one or two decent numbers and I was surprised how nimble Phil Silvers is on his toes. He dances well with Kelly and Hayworth. As always Eve Arden is as humorous as ever and Gene Kelly used his artistic control fairly well.

3.5/5 Stars

Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

a4eff-only_angels_have_wings_posterStarring Cary Grant and Jean Arthur with a cast including Thomas Mitchell, Rita Hayworth, and Noah Beery Jr., with director Howard Hawks, the film follows pilots who fly mail throughout South America. Grant is the head of the dangerous operation and it becomes apparent to Arthur that he is callous, after a great tragedy strikes. However, she still stays out of interest in him. Things get complicated when the new pilot arrives and he carries a past that puts him at odds with everyone. It doesn’t help that his wife (Hayworth) was the former girl of Grant. In order to keep the operation going, Grant is forced to send out this Macpherson as well as his best friend “The Kid” (Mitchell) into a large storm. Needless to say that are not able to make it. Arthur is about to leave after this second disaster, but beforehand she says goodbye to the saddened Grant. He soon peps up when the weather clears and then prepares to fly again. Arthur at first feels rejected but with a flip of a coin she realizes his love for her. This is certainly a tragic picture, but good nonetheless.

4/5 Stars

The Lady from Shanghai (1947) – Film-Noir

Starring Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, the film is narrated by an Irish sailor (Welles) who meets a beautiful but unhappily married woman (Hayworth). Michael is given a job on the yacht of the wealthy lawyer Arthur Bannister and he is near the alluring Elsa once again. While he is aboard the yacht, Bannister’s partner Grisby asks Michael to fake a murder so Grisby can disappear and claim the insurance money. Michael is suppose to confess to the crime but Grisby will be long gone and there will be no evidence. However, things go awry when Grisby kills another man and then he himself ends up dead. This leaves an innocent Michael facing the gas chamber. Only after he makes a desperate escape from court does he learn who was behind the murder of Grisby and also actually in league with him. In a surreal climax ending in the hall of mirrors, Elsa, Michael, and Bannister all face each other. However, only one survives. Despite a slow beginning the exciting second half of this film is a credit to the directing of Welles.

4/5 Stars

Gilda (1946) – Film-Noir

*This May Contain Spoilers

This film-noir and twisted love story stars Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth. Johnny Farrell is a shady gambler who has just arrived in Buenos Aires. Through certain  circumstances, he quickly meets a mysterious man. Soon he learns this man is a casino owner and Farrell gains a job as his right-hand man. However, things get complicated when Farrell’s boss marries Gilda, a beautiful woman who Farrell had been involved with a long time ago. Quickly their mutual dislike becomes evident but Mr. Mundy has Johhny constantly watching over Gilda. Seeing her flirting with many other men increases Johhny’s hatred for her. Soon he learns his boss is in something much bigger and after a murder, Mr. Mundy attempts to escape on a plane. Johnny sees it crash but little does he know his boss is alive. To get at Gilda, he marries her and keeps her confined. Despite their hatred, they still hold complicated feelings for each other. But then Mr. Mundy comes back seeking revenge on both Johnny and Gilda. However, his plans fail and the romance is complete. If there was ever an essential femme fatale, Hayworth’s character certainly would fit that category. Her performance of  “Put the Blame on Mame” is definitely memorable.

4.5/5 Stars

Separate Tables (1958)

bdd6d-separate_tablesStarring Burt Lancaster, Rita Hayworth, Deborah Kerr, David Niven, and Wendy Hiller, the films follows the evens at an Inn in England. This relatively simply film is less about plot and more about the interactions between people. Lancaster is a troubled man who is trying to forget his past marriage. Hayworth is the attractive wife he left who has her own insecurities, Kerr is the timid daughter who always obeys her mum, and she takes a fancy for the Major. Niven is the Major, a seemingly kind older gentleman with a less desirable side. Add a few more guests and Wendy Hiller as the sensible owner of the inn and you have this movie. What first begins as separated tables eventually evolves into something else entirely.

4/5 Stars