Wednesday, October 17, 2018

GILDA (1946), Celebrating Rita

The legend of Rita Hayworth has it that her mother, formerly of the Ziegfeld Follies, wanted her daughter to be an actress, but her father, a professional dancer, wanted the girl to be a dancer. Eduardo Cansino, her dad, won out and little Margarita Carmen Cansino would begin to dance at age three.

She was born on October 17, 1918 – one hundred years ago – in Brooklyn. At age four, as a member of the family act, the Four Cansinos, she was on stage and dancing at the Winter Garden Theatre in a Broadway production of The Greenwich Village Follies. Eduardo Cansino believed that the movies needed more professional dancers and so, in 1926, the Cansinos moved to Hollywood.

Cary and Rita in Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
By the late ‘30s, Margarita, first known as Rita Cansino, then Rita Consuelo and finally Rita Hayworth, had gone solo and was now a young actress on the rise. Under contract to Columbia Pictures, she would make her way up the Hollywood ladder and undergo a dramatic transformation along the way.

In 1939 she began to break out with a supporting role, that of “Judy, Judy, Judy,” in Columbia’s Only Angels Have Wings starring Cary Grant and Jean Arthur. Though Columbia’s makeover of her appearance, style and voice had just begun, she was on her way to becoming the studio's first top-tier glamour girl.

In 1940, on loan to Warner Bros., she appeared alongside James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland in The Strawberry Blonde. But it was her performance, again on loan, for 20th Century Fox’s Blood and Sand (1941) opposite Tyrone Power that established her as a bona fide sex symbol. In the film it is Rita’s character, Doña Sol, whose callous treatment of Spain’s top matador (Power) is the catalyst for his downfall. Confirming her credibility as an irresistible siren were reports from the set that Tyrone Power, a formidable sex symbol in his own right, was so fascinated by Miss Hayworth that he could barely take his eyes from her during filming.

Rita and Tyrone Power in Blood and Sand (1941)
Rita Hayworth’s metamorphosis was just about complete, she was a certified movie star and a #1 pin-up girl of World War II. But it wouldn’t be until the war’s end that she would step into the role that would forever define her and signal the very peak of her career. 

Gilda (1946), from Rita's home studio, is a polished-looking noir with a bitter under-taste. The film’s high contrast gloss, mostly thanks to Rita’s glamorous turn as Gilda and cinematographer Rudolph Maté, is offset by perverse undercurrents. Seething anger seems the prime motivator behind the actions of more than one central character…“Hate can be a very exciting emotion. Very exciting. Haven’t you noticed that?” And, with all that malice in the ether, it's no surprise that a particularly twisted triangle develops between the three main characters.

Gilda opens with two-bit gambler Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) rolling the dice in a down and dirty craps game. He's been reduced to trying his luck in “the Argentine.” Chance soon throws him together with casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready) when the older man rescues him from an even more dicey situation. The two seem birds of a feather and hit it off; soon Johnny is managing Mundson’s casino. Things get tricky when Johnny discovers that Mundson’s much younger new wife is his ex, a hair-tossing singer/dancer named Gilda. Barbs fly back and forth between the two former flames for most of the rest of the film. Yes, hate can be exciting, if that’s what you want to call it. Some would simply say thwarted lust.

Rita as Gilda
By the time Gilda was released in early 1946, Rita Hayworth's makeover was complete and she was now every inch the sultry "Love Goddess." Her hair was a free-flowing riot of red, with her hairline raised just enough to open up her face. She was clad in luxurious gowns designed by Jean Louis, and her dance routines were the work of Jack Cole, the man who would concoct Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" number a few years later. Additionally, casting Rita opposite Glenn Ford proved to be a canny move. Ford's Johnny Farrell is brash and edgy, full of bravado - a worthy foil to Gilda's provocative silkiness.

The film was a smash and Rita would reign with the likes of MGM's Ava and Lana as an international movie star and object of global desire for years after. With the passage of time, though, she would grow rueful about the impact of her superstar-making role on her private life. More than once she famously remarked that the men in her life all seemed to "...fall in love with Gilda and wake up with me."

Rita Hayworth's late years were chaotic but that's something to explore at another time, perhaps. Today we celebrate her 100th centenary, recalling her best-remembered film and her sizzling portrayal of Gilda. Rita is also being honored all this month as TCM's Star of the Month for October (click here for more plus a schedule) - and I'll be watching her on the big screen tonight as my local movie house, the Smith Rafael Film Center (aka/the Rafael), pays tribute with a one-night-only screening of Gilda.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Bullitt (1968) Turns 50: Reflections on a New Hollywood Trend-Setter

The TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, famously known for decades as Grauman’s, is the most historic of movie palaces world-wide, and one of the most magnificent. Famed for its lavish “Oriental” décor, its klieg light-lit Old Hollywood movie premieres, and its hand- and footprint-studded forecourt, the theater has been a shrine to cinema since 1927, when it first opened its doors. An IMAX theater since 2013, it continues to be the foremost Hollywood venue for major movie premieres. The theater is also the scene of showcase screenings during TCM’s annual classic film festival in Hollywood

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Innocents (1961)

A woman’s suffering face appears above a pair of tortured hands. Birds twitter…her distraught voice whispers…

All I want to do is save the children not destroy them. More than anything I love children. More than anything they need affection, love, someone who will belong to them and to whom they will belong.

And then a man’s voice is heard, “Do you have an imagination?” he asks, and the scene shifts to a well-appointed office where an elegant gentleman is addressing the young woman whose face we have already seen. She is now sitting in a chair and speaks animatedly with him as he continues asking questions and explaining the situation he offers.

Saturday, September 22, 2018


September 23 brings the 3rd annual Art House Theater Day, and when I first learned of it, I smiled. Memories of long-ago days and nights spent in the art houses of San Francisco and Berkeley came to mind. It was in these funky little theaters nestled in the Bay Area’s nooks and crannies that I was introduced to the films of Powell & Pressburger, Fellini, Chabrol, Lina Wertmuller and other filmmakers from outside the U.S. It was in these ragtag movie houses that I watched “revival” screenings of films like Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe? and John Cassavetes’ Husbands for the first time. Back in the day, art houses that presented foreign, indie and classic American films flourished around the US, in all major cities and university towns.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

6 Day French Noir Fest Coming to San Francisco

French Film Noir Series Focuses on the Frenetic '50s, Including Jeanne Moreau and Jean Gabin Programs

My friend Steve Indig, who's been brilliantly managing promotion for Midcentury Productions' film festivals for the past few years, has just announced details of this year's French film noir series in San Francisco. Set for November 15 - 20, the program for 2018 is bigger, and promises to be better, than ever:

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Forever Roses

"Even bedridden, she was the most beautiful old lady I'd ever seen. There she was with no makeup but still beautiful skin, big blue eyes and little hands fluttering like small birds in the air. She smelled beautiful, too, like roses." - Sacha Briquet

Marlene Dietrich lived her final years in an apartment on Avenue Montaigne in Paris. French actor/comedian Sacha Briquet (1930 - 2010) had become a friend and confidante and was one of few visitors she would see as she made her way into advanced age. Briquet's lovely reminiscence has me contemplating the purchase of a lifetime supply of Jean Patou's Joy, with the fantasy of emanating the scent of roses for the rest of my life. Of course, I wouldn't mind doing this from an apartment in Paris either...

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Extraordinary Mildred Natwick

On a Friday earlier this month, with time to spare before a screening of the Jacques Becker heist classic Touchez pas au grisbi at the Pacific Film Archive, we stopped by Rasputin’s, a decades-old Berkeley haunt that deals in new and used records, CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays. There I managed to unearth two films, Lubitsch’s Ninotchka and Truffaut’s Day for Night, along with a ‘70s TV series, all at a good price. The series is one I’d been only vaguely aware of and knew very little about, really. The Snoop Sisters (1972 – 1974), starred Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as a pair of sisters aptly named Snoop, one of whom (Hayes) writes mystery novels. The two invariably get mixed up in solving real crimes (sound familiar?).

Saturday, August 25, 2018

"On the Town," in Celebration of Leonard Bernstein's Centenary

August 25th marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of American composer/conductor/pianist Leonard Bernstein. In celebration, movie houses around the country are showcasing films scored by the legendary maestro.  My local theater, the Smith Rafael Film Center (aka/the Rafael), put together a three-film tribute to Bernstein, with On the Town (1949), On the Waterfront (1954) and West Side Story (1961) screening on separate Sundays in August.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Roll Up for the Mystery Tour: A Visit to the Oakland Paramount Theatre

Have you ever wanted to tour a historic movie palace? One of those elaborately ornate monuments to cinema constructed during the Golden Age of American movie theaters, back in the ‘20s and ‘30s? Well, I have, and luckily for me I live not very far from one of the most spectacular of them all, the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, CA, a theater that hosts public tours twice monthly.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Celebrating Bastille Day with French Noir

Today is Bastille Day, the National Day of France – la fête nationale française. If you have a bit of French blood in your veins and are a Francophile, like me, that’s reason enough to celebrate. But how to celebrate? With a baguette and a glass of vin rouge? Listening to Edith Piaf (or Madeleine Peyroux) sing La vie en rose? Or are you, a die-hard film buff, more inclined to sit down with a classic film? Perhaps a French film, a Renoir, Duvivier, Melville or Truffaut. Or maybe a glittery Golden Age Hollywood movie set in France, like Midnight (1939), An American in Paris (1950) or Charade (1963).

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A remembrance of things past: "MY AMADEUS STORY"

As the San Francisco Symphony prepares to screen the Oscar-winning film, I reminisce... 


Amadeus first entered my consciousness back in the early ‘80s, when I worked in the promotion dept. of Fantasy Records (Dave Brubeck, Vince Guaraldi, Creedence Clearwater Revival) in Berkeley, which was owned by Saul Zaentz and his partners, along with several jazz and R&B record labels. A few years earlier, before my time with the company, in the 1970s, Saul had begun producing movies under Fantasy Films, the film division of the parent company. His second feature, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), had gone on to win five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and the first of Jack Nicholson’s three Oscars. Saul would continue to make films, and the film division would soon change its name to the Saul Zaentz Company.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Beautiful Face, Beautiful Mind: "Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story"

As a 5-year-old she completely took apart and put back together her toy music box. She was a child who was very close to her father, a bank director with an interest in inventing. Regularly during their walks through Vienna, where she was born in 1914, he would explain to her the inner workings of mechanical devices they encountered on these outings. She was captivated. And she became interested in inventing things herself; it came easily to her, she said.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Small Town Theaters: A Gem in the Wine Country, the Sebastiani Theatre in Sonoma, California

Opened in 1934, the Sebastiani Screens Current and Classic Films

On a recent trek into the wine country, we took some time to cruise Sonoma Plaza in the town's center, an area now lined with restaurants, specialty shops and food and wine sellers. Amazingly, in the midst of all this modern-era commerce, stands the Sebastiani Theatre, in operation since 1934, still showing movies, and not only current releases, but also classics.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Exploring the Dark Side of the American Dream

Richard Barthelmess in William Wellman's Heroes for Sale (1933)

As the U.S. continues its steep and steady descent into another dark night of the soul, distressed Americans cope as best they can. Some rant and debate on social media, some organize or take to the streets, others seek solace in their diversion or hobby of choice. For the film lover, watching movies can provide relief but also, on occasion, a sobering history lesson.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Another Noir Year Begins

San Francisco's Noir City is the first of several film noir festivals scheduled around the U.S. for 2018

The Film Noir Foundation's 16th annual Noir City festival in San Francisco ran from January 26 through February 4, kicking off a series of nationwide noir festivals, as it traditionally does, for the year.