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Angels over Broadway

Angels over Broadway(1940)

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teaser Angels over Broadway (1940)

On a rainy night in New York City a group of four strangers meet at the swanky Times Square nightclub the Pigeon Club.Charles Engle (character actor John Qualen) is a suicidal nebbish who has embezzled money from his boss (George Watts). Eugene Gibbons (Thomas Mitchell) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright whose career has taken a turn for the worse but believes he can help the bereft Engle pay back the $3000 he owes his employer. Nina Barone (RitaHayworth) is an idealistic, good-hearted dancer who longs to appear on the elegant club's stage. Smooth-talking con-man Bill O'Brien (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) at first sees Engle as a potential rube who he can con out of his money. But O'Brien eventually conspires, along with Gibbons and Barone, to help Engle win back his $3000 debt.

Filled with crackling dialogue and an offbeat tone that alternates between light and dark, Angels Over Broadway (1940) was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar®, though director Ben Hecht's script lost out to Preston Sturges' The Great McGinty.

A short story writer, novelist and newspaper reporter, Hecht worked in nearly every writerly form. As a journalist for the Chicago Daily News Hecht broke an infamous story dubbed the "Ragged Stranger Murder Case" in which an Army war hero paid a drifter to murder his pregnant wife.

While in New York in 1926, he reportedly received a telegram from his friend Herman J. Mankiewicz, who had recently arrived in Hollywood. The telegram read: "Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don't let this get around." At Mankiewicz's urging, Hecht left print journalism to pursue new work.

Hecht won his first screenplay Oscar® in 1927 for Josef von Sternberg's Underworld at the first Academy Awards in 1929 and was nominated five more times for a Best Writing Oscar®. He was undeniably prolific, often collaborating with fellow writer Charles MacArthur, most famously on the play The Front Page. Hecht was also paid $10,000 by David O. Selznick to script doctor one of film history's most famous classics, Gone with the Wind (1939).

Though audiences were lukewarm on Angels Over Broadway, critics were mostly enthusiastic. Bosley Crowther crowed in his New York Times review "If it is not the best work that Mr. Hecht has done for the screen, certainly it is the most satisfying of his work that we have seen. As the writer, director and producer, Mr. Hecht has taken the opportunity to reaffirm the fact that drama is created out of people and not out of a warehouse full of props and sets."

Born Margarita Carmen Cansino and later nicknamed "The Love Goddess" Rita Hayworth rose from a humble Brooklyn, Spanish/Irish background. First contracted by Fox Studios at age 16 when a Fox film producer caught her family stage act "The Dancing Cansinos," Hayworth appeared in several small roles for the studio as Rita Cansino.

The fledgling actress found her new name "Hayworth" and image thanks to a painful round of electrolysis to raise her hairline at Harry Cohn's Columbia Pictures. She appeared as part of an ensemble cast as a philandering wife in Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings (1939) and was loaned-out to Warner Brothers for The Strawberry Blonde (1941). Also loaned to Fox Studios for Blood and Sand (1941) opposite Tyrone Power, Hayworth won that notable role away from Carole Landis, who refused to dye her hair red for the Technicolor film. Hayworth's auburn hair, ironically enough, would become her most distinctive feature.

It was also Hayworth's memorable dancing - the result of a family legacy of generations of Spanish dancers - along with her great beauty which got her noticed in You'll Never Get Rich (1941) with Fred Astaire.

Hayworth's image in a 1941 Life magazine in which she knelt in a lace and silk nightgown on a bed was so popular that American servicemen made her one of World War II's most famous pinups, even adorning the nuclear test bomb dropped on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

Married five times, Hayworth was unlucky in love, but a remarkable romantic presence onscreen. After a career apex as a ravishing femme fatale in Charles Vidor's film noir Gilda (1946) Hayworth worked in fewer projects, with competition coming from television and Columbia's new sex symbol Kim Novak despite a memorable turn in fourth husband Orson Welles' The Lady from Shanghai (1947). Some attributed that film's failure at the box office to Welles' decision to cut off Hayworth's famous locks and dye them blonde for the movie.

Hayworth left Hollywood in 1948 to marry playboy Prince Aly Kahn and live in Europe, though the marriage ended in 1951. Though her career never returned to its former glory, Hayworth did return to Hollywood to star in a number of hits including Affair in Trinidad (1952) Salome (1953) and Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) and worked up until 1972 when she made her final film The Wrath of God.

Director: Ben Hecht, Lee Garmes
Producer: Ben Hecht
Screenplay: Ben Hecht
Cinematography: Lee Garmes
Production Design: Lionel Banks
Music: George Antheil
Cast: Rita Hayworth (Nina Barone), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Bill O'Brien), Thomas Mitchell (Eugene Gibbons), John Qualen (Charles Engle), George Watts (Joseph Hopper), Ralph Theodore (Dutch Enright).

by Felicia Feaster

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