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Remind Me

Behind the Camera on GILDA

Thursday April, 18 2019 at 06:00 PM
Sunday May, 5 2019 at 02:00 PM

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Rita Hayworth was relieved to learn that Gilda was to be shot in black-and-white rather that Technicolor - the amount of lighting needed for color photography could be oppressive and stifling. Hayworth was also no doubt at ease because she had already worked before with her leading man, Glenn Ford, in The Lady in Question (1940). Charles Vidor had directed that picture, as well as Hayworth's recent hit Cover Girl (1944). In their biography, Rita: The Life of Rita Hayworth, Joe Morella and Edward Z. Epstein describe the director's style: "...Vidor knew just how to create the proper climate and coax the right performances from his stars. Sometimes, after Vidor had explained, in the most graphic terms, what the lovers should be thinking, he would say to Rita and Glenn, ?Loosen up, children.' If he didn't get the performance he wanted from Rita by the third take, he was in trouble. Rita was an emotional actress, as opposed to a technical one. For a role like Gilda she had to call on her innermost emotions."

Gilda gloried in the bizarre relationship of the leads, and the sometimes physical way in which their love/hate manifested itself; for Hollywood in the 1940s under the Production Code, this meant a lot of slapping scenes. Ford was hesitant to slap Rita in one instance, but director Vidor and Hayworth both convinced him to just let go. He did, and even Hayworth was stunned at the effect. In a later scene, Gilda was to slap Johnny four consecutive times. On this occasion, it was Ford who told Hayworth to "Go all out." According to Morella and Epstein, "She smacked him - one, two, he felt something crack - three, four, he felt another crack. ?Cut!' said Vidor. What a great take! What acting, everyone thought. Only Ford knew what had happened. Blood began trickling out of the corners of his mouth. Rita had knocked out two of his teeth."

The famous introductory shot of Hayworth in Gilda has her snapping her head up into frame, uttering the line "Me? Sure, I'm decent..." Hayworth's trademark hair follows the arc of her action in perfect follow-through. Columbia hair stylist Helen Hunt later said, "I got fan mail - and hate mail - about Rita's hair! Some clergymen declared that I would go to hell for contributing to evil because of Rita's hair in Gilda! Rita acted with her hair. I would be on the set and hear the director say, ?You're angry now. Toss your hair back.' Or ?You're happy in this scene. Use your hair.'"

Harry Cohn, the famously abrasive head of Columbia Pictures, was worried about bad publicity affecting Hayworth's box-office pull; her marriage to Orson Welles was a constant worry for him. Hayworth and Welles were, in fact, in the middle of one of their separations during the shooting of Gilda, and the gossip magazines were full of stories of an affair between Ford and Hayworth. According to Morella and Epstein, "after a long day's shooting, while Rita and Glenn were having a quiet drink, the mogul would barrage the duo with angry phone calls and demand that Hayworth go home." Cohn went so far as to spy on his actors - he had recording devices set up in their dressing rooms. He got no useful information, though; as Ford later said, "Of course, we knew our dressing rooms were bugged. The sound department tipped us off." (Welles knew of the hidden mics when he returned to Columbia in 1946 to make The Lady from Shanghai (1947) with his estranged wife. He said that he and Rita would perform impromptu skits and radio shows in their dressing room for the benefit of their "listeners").

The film opened at Radio City Music Hall on March 14, 1946. Gilda was an enormous hit, bringing in over $3.75 million in domestic rentals alone.

by John Miller

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