Monday, July 27, 2009

Underrating Rita.


Hello, Jose from "Movies Kick Ass" here with something that's been bugging me since I watched "Separate Tables" last week. The film features an altogether impressive cast with the likes of David Niven, Deborah Kerr, Gladys Cooper, Burt Lancaster and Wendy Hiller among others. But the one who made the greatest impression on me was the incredible Rita Hayworth. She plays Ann Shankland, an American social climber/seductress who comes to the hotel where the film takes place, looking for her ex-husband John (Lancaster).

In a few scenes, most of which feature long silences, Hayworth creates a character with a fascinating backstory. One that's more interesting because it's only suggested (her backstory might vary from viewer to viewer). Most of the time Hayworth slips quietly in the back, partly because her character's "questionable morals" force her to and partly because she's overshadowed by bigger "actors" who shout, acquire funny accents and succumb to deglam (Kerr particularly who is in full "Ugly Betty" mode).

I was not surprised to discover that out of the three performers that got nominated for Oscars for this movie (Kerr and eventual winners Niven and Hiller) Hayworth was nowhere to be found, what did upset me was realizing that in her entire career Hayworth didn't receive a single nomination! Yes, not for "The Lady from Shanghai", neither for "Blood and Sand" and most shockingly not for "Gilda" where she creates one of the most iconic performances in film history (and performs in what I think is the sexiest scene of all time).

After wondering what prevented her from being recognized for her acting, the most obvious conclusion was that she was ignored because her acting never required her to stop being beautiful. Several other actresses have endured that same "curse" (Marilyn Monroe comes instantly to mind) where their beauty overshadows (or overlights?) their talent and they are forced to submit themselves to Academy regulations of what acting should be about.
Some succumb (Grace Kelly and almost everyone who's won Best Actress this decade are obvious examples) but people like Hayworth only continued to grow more beautiful, and better, with every single performance.

This weird AMPAS standard is best summarized in a line from "Separate Tables" where John tells Ann "The very sight of you is perhaps the one thing about you I don't hate." If only the same were true for their appraisal of talent.

7 comments:

NATHANIEL R said...

Wow. i love that quote you conclude with. so perfect ;)

and agreed that Rita was one of the very best things in Separate Tables. I read your post on the movie (good post) though i disagree with your thoughts on Deborah Kerr ...I thought she was, quite simply, terrible in the film. One of my least favorite Best Actress nominations.

adri said...

I was amazed when I saw the few movies where she danced with Fred Astaire. She is so light and full of easy grace! I had thought of her as a legendary beauty, but when I think of her as a dancer, I get a different picture, of practice and discipline and professionalism. And then, dancers make it look easy -- so they don't get respect.

Pablete said...

I felt in love with her at first sight! I was a child of ten, and the movie was no other than "Gilda"... "Amada Mia"!

Rose McFadden said...

Poor Rita. Such a great star/beauty/actress, but her talent was never truly recognized. As you said, she was overshadowed by her beauty. Yet even Ava Gardner got an oscar nod. And I think Rita is a better actress than Ava. She's my favorite part about Separate Tables, too.

I think it was Nicole Kidman who said that Rita was elegance personified. I couldn't agree more.

Anonymous said...

Hayworth is absolutely brillant in SEPARATE TABLES and she should have been nominated that year, filling her co-lead Kerr spot (I love Kerr, don't misunderstand me, but not her work in that particular film...it's incredible how the Academy could have snubbed some of her more outstanding perfs, such as the ones THE BLACK NARCISUS and THE INNOCENTS...and nominate her for this...).

Anyway Hayworth's acting skills have been too much overlooked. IMHO opinion she deserved to be selected Best Actress for GILDA, let alone been nominated...

I disagree regarding Gardner: I'm glad she has been an Academy Awards Nominee, and I think MOGAMBO is not her only award-worthy perf (I personally cherish her THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA, THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, along with her breakthrough in THE KILLERS and her cameo in THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN)

mirko

Richard said...

I checked out 9 DVDs, including Separate Tables, looked at all once, but at Tables some 20 times, just to see the interplay language between Lancaster and Hayworth. I don't think it could have been better done by Olivier and Leigh. Here is a film that probably cost little compared with the great action films, but it is so much more rewarding and insightful. I am left askance at the references to "God" and "Christian virtues"--the piece ends with a euphoria that covers over the real difficulty and damage of the relations presented. I can imagine work that goes much deeper into the same absolutely intriguing work. This is very serious material and to her credit Hayworth does far more than some femme fatale.

Richard said...

Hayworth and Lancaster owe the dialogue between them a lot of the credit. Piecing the language implications in their dialogue is very interesting. Hayworth did fine acting throughout, less glamour and much more talent than she ever displayed before. Her silences and postures focus her attention on her relation with Lancaster throughout.