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During the studio era, most of the major stars started out as contract actors who had to appear in whatever pictures they were assigned until they proved their worth to the studio either through hard work and determination, critical acclaim, or an enthusiastic response from moviegoers. Rita Hayworth was no exception to this, appearing first as a dancer and extra under the name Rita Cansino in a handful of pictures for 20th-Century-Fox and then as a contract player at Columbia Pictures where she first appeared in 1936 in Meet Nero Wolf. Over the next few years she would be featured in supporting roles in countless B-pictures but her career took an upward turn after she completed Homicide Bureau (1939), the last of five films she made with Irving Briskin's low-budget film unit at Columbia.
Homicide Bureau was a routine crime drama programmer starring Bruce Cabot as Lt. Jim Logan, a headstrong cop whose rough interrogation methods cause him to be demoted by his superiors. Despite this, Logan still manages to track down and apprehend a criminal gang who is selling scrap metal to foreign governments that posed a threat to the U.S. Rita Hayworth, who gets second billing, plays a forensics lab technician who is destined to become Logan's wife at the fadeout even though the fifty-six minute feature leaves no time for an on-screen romance to develop between them.
The Irving Briskin unit was known for its fast assembly line precision "and everyone associated with the Briskin unit [according to Gene Ringgold in The Complete Films of Rita Hayworth], directors, players, writers and technicians remained in his good graces as long as they followed his one rule that was not to be violated 'Do it in one take.'"
Hayworth had no illusions about the quality of the movies she was making at this point in her career and later remarked on the Briskin unit films, saying "They were all pretty bad. Did I learn anything from doing them? Yeah, I learned you don't learn much from people who are just interested in getting something done fast instead of right."
The critical reviews for Homicide Bureau mirrored Hayworth's opinion with Weekly Variety reporting that the film "hits new low in cycle of crimewave opuses, with every department of production way below-par for this type of picture."
Homicide Bureau may indeed be nothing more than an undistinguished cop drama but Hayworth, in her unglamorous lab coat amid test tubes and microscopes, was already starting to radiate a certain star quality. Columbia studio head Harry Cohn certainly noticed it and was carefully monitoring her career. After Homicide Bureau, Cohn saw that Hayworth was given a more substantial role in a better film and the result was The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (1939), a first rate entry in the popular detective series that co-starred her with Warren William and Ida Lupino. The movie marked the first time Hayworth got her own stand-in and instead of having to wear the usual castoffs of the wardrobe department, she was dressed in sleek gowns and expensive furs. It was a sign of better things to come and immediately after The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt Hayworth finally landed her first important film role in Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings (1939) with Cary Grant, Jean Arthur and Richard Barthelmess. By 1940 Hayworth had graduated from supporting roles to leading actress and would never have to make another Homicide Bureau again.
Producer: Jack Frier
Director: Charles C. Coleman
Screenplay: Earle Snell
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline
Film Editing: James Sweeney
Art Direction: Lionel Banks
Music: Sidney Cutner
Cast: Bruce Cabot (Jim Logan), Rita Hayworth (J.G. Bliss), Marc Lawrence (Chuck Brown), Richard Fiske (Hank), Moroni Olsen (Captain Raines), Norman Willis (Ed Briggs).
by Jeff Stafford
The Life of Rita by Joe Morella & Edward Z. Epstein
Rita Hayworth: Portrait of a Love Goddess by John Kobal
The Complete Films of Rita Hayworth: The Legend and Career of a Love Goddess by Gene Ringgold