Directed By: Elaina Archer
Starring: Kim Basinger, Robert Board, Eduardo Cansino
Tag line: "The real story of Hollywood's Love Goddess"
Trivia: Playboy's Hugh Hefner was one of the Executive Producers of this film
On-screen, Rita Hayworth was a force to be reckoned with, a talented dancer and, thanks to her role in 1946’s Gilda, a femme fatale who would steal your heart, then chew it up and spit it out. She was considered by many the most beautiful actress of her time, and was a favorite of servicemen during World War II (a photo of her in black negligee was a popular pin-up for soldiers serving overseas). Alluring, provocative, sexy… these are a few of the words people used to describe Rita Hayworth, who, in the 1940s and ‘50s, was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.
That was her public persona, but as we learn in 2003’s Rita, a documentary produced by Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, she was a different person in private; a shy, withdrawn woman who often let the men in her life walk all over her. At the age of 13, she was her father’s dance partner, working several shows a night to help support her family during the depression, and her move to the big screen drew the attention of Columbia studio chief Harry Cohn, who, as punishment for rebuking his sexual advances, assigned Hayworth to a series of small films.
But he couldn’t keep her down for long, and after dancing alongside Gene Kelly in Cover Girl, Hayworth got her big break with Gilda, and became a star. She was married several times, though her various husbands, including Orson Welles and Prince Aly Khan, could never give her what she truly desired: a stable home and time away from the spotlight. A devoted mother to her two daughters, she continued to make movies through the 1950s and ‘60s, appearing with Frank Sinatra (Pal Joey), Burt Lancaster (Separate Tables), and Gary Cooper (They Came to Cordura), and despite a few more disastrous marriages and a growing alcohol dependency, she pressed on, always ready to make her next big comeback.
Then, in 1980, Hayworth’s life was thrown into chaos when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and those who loved her watched as, over the next seven years, she slowly forgot who they were.
Narrated by Kim Basinger, Rita tells the story of both Rita Hayworths: the public beauty and the private wallflower. Featuring clips from many of her films (like 1948’s The Lady From Shanghai, which she made with soon-to-be ex-husband Orson Welles) and some home movies, as well as interviews with family members (such as daughter Princess Yasmin Khan), friends (Ann Miller and Tab Hunter, both of whom had worked with her before), and a few admirers (Nicole Kidman speaks highly of Hayworth, who has been an influence on her own career), Rita delves deeply into the starlet’s often tumultuous life, taking us right up to the bitter end.
Informative and heartbreaking, Rita is a biopic as much as it is a tribute to a remarkable artist, and like all good documentaries of this ilk (like Stardust: The Bette Davis Story), you leave with a new respect for its main subject, and a renewed vigor to see as many of her movies as you possibly can.