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"She's back!" announced the ads for Affair in Trinidad (1952), hailing the return of America's Love Goddess to the screen after a four-year absence. Frustrated with her treatment at the hands of Columbia Pictures boss Harry Cohn and yearning for the love and domestic happiness that had eluded her through two previous failed marriages, Rita Hayworth bolted from Hollywood and married international playboy Aly Khan, son of the head of the Ismaili Muslims, in a lavish 1949 ceremony in France. When that marriage also fell apart after the birth of daughter Yasmin, Hayworth returned to the states and to Columbia to make movies again after an extended contract suspension. It was good news for her fans, but not necessarily a very happy time for those involved in the production.
Director Vincent Sherman, freelancing after an extended stint at Warner Brothers on projects with such top female stars of the studio as Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Ann Sheridan and Ida Lupino, basically felt tricked into doing Affair in Trinidad. Cohn had given him the first pages of a treatment and secured his services before Sherman found out that nothing really existed of the rest of the story. Columbia contract writer Virginia Van Upp, who had written Hayworth's hit musical Cover Girl (1944) and produced her most iconographic film, Gilda (1946), was having personal problems herself and could not pull together the threads of a number of vague storylines she had created. After producer Bert Granet walked off the project and Sherman confronted Cohn with the lack of anything to work with, the Columbia head admitted to being backed into a corner by Hayworth's sudden unexpected return. According to her contract, he said, he had to use her or lose her. Under pressure from the studio's financial offices in New York, annoyed at having to pay the star $3500 a week for nothing, Cohn pressured Van Upp into concocting a story. Hayworth wasn't happy about the lack of a script either and threatened to walk out again, but Cohn reverted to his old strong-arm tactics, forcing her either to capitulate or risk another suspension. Nearly broke after her marriage to the profligate playboy and with two children to support, she relented.
This didn't make for a very productive shoot at first. In his autobiography, Sherman commented on Rita's mood - sad, lonely, lacking confidence and direction. He and Valerie Bettis, the noted dancer who choreographed Hayworth's routines and also played a role in the film, noticed that their star was out of shape after years away from dancing and needing serious toning and training. But Sherman also remarked that Hayworth hung in there, getting her body back in shape, working hard at the picture, and eventually the atmosphere on the set improved.
What finally came out of all this chaos was a brooding melodrama in which Hayworth, once again playing a woman who was not the wicked character she seemed to be, is a performer in a nightclub in Trinidad whose estranged husband is murdered. A love/hate relationship develops between her and her brother-in-law, who has come to the country at the urgent last request of his brother. He finds himself both attracted to the sultry woman and repulsed by what appears to be her collusion with the apparent killer.
If the set-up sounds vaguely familiar, that was intentional. Columbia deliberately planned to fashion the film along the lines of Hayworth's greatest success, Gilda, even to pairing her for the fourth (and penultimate) time with Glenn Ford, her co-star from the earlier film and her last picture before her marriage to Khan, The Loves of Carmen (1948). Sherman also admits to having borrowed liberally from Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (1946), with its plot about a woman romancing a villain on behalf of a law enforcement official. But if Affair in Trinidad seemed to be a pale rehash of previous successes, audiences certainly didn't mind. With all the delays and problems, the budget had ballooned to $1.2 million. But upon its release, despite tepid reviews, fans lined up to see the most famous sex symbol of the 40s on screen again, and the picture raked in $7 million in domestic receipts alone.
Here's one other odd little tidbit about this film: the name of the villain, Max Fabian, is the same as the flustered producer character in the film All About Eve (1950). There is, however, no apparent connection between the two.
Director: Vincent Sherman
Producer: Vincent Sherman
Screenplay: James Gunn, Oscar Saul, Virginia Van Upp, Berne Giler
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Editing: Viola Lawrence
Art Direction: Walter Holscher
Original Music: George Duning, Morris Stoloff
Cast: Rita Hayworth (Chris Emery), Glenn Ford (Steve Emery), Alexander Scourby (Max Fabian), Valerie Bettis (Veronica Huebling), Torin Thatcher (Inspector Smythe).
by Rob Nixon