In her 20 years at Columbia Pictures, Rita Hayworth was an all-purpose superstar. What made Hayworth, who died of Alzheimer’s disease in 1987 at age 68, the definitive ’40s movie goddess was a range of talents that made her equally at home in splashy musicals and shadowy films noirs. She was the determined ingenue in Cover Girl, the icy femme fatale in The Lady From Shanghai, the smoldering seductress in Gilda, the biblical princess in Salome.
Her many facets are sparklingly on display in 16 newly reissued ”classics” in the Rita Hayworth Collection. Two titles are on video for the first time, four others have been reduced in price, and the rest have been repackaged. Not all of them are really classics. But together, they chart the evolution of a star — and actress — from her beginnings as the girl who almost upstages Jean Arthur in Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings (1939) to her studio swan song as the lady who loses Frank Sinatra to Kim Novak in Pal Joey (1957).
The new-to-video titles are two of Hayworth’s weaker musicals. Yet both demonstrate how far a mediocre movie can go on a little star power. In Music in My Heart (1940), Hayworth is the sole saving grace as a woman engaged to a millionaire but in love with a struggling actor (Tony Martin). In Down to Earth (1947), she’s literally heavenly as the Greek goddess Terpsichore, who descends from the clouds to save a Broadway show about, of course, Greek goddesses.
In the best of these reissues, Hayworth had the material — and the costars — to make movie magic. The essential films include Only Angels Have Wings, also starring Cary Grant; Cover Girl (1944), opposite Gene Kelly; You’ll Never Get Rich (1941) and You Were Never Lovelier (1942), both with Fred Astaire; and The Lady From Shanghai (1948), directed by and starring her then husband, Orson Welles. Along with the steamy Gilda (conspicuously missing from this promotion but available on Columbia TriStar for $29.95), these five show off Hayworth in all her dazzling eclecticism. Once you’ve seen them, you’ll have seen her at her best. By then, you’ll be so hooked you’ll have to see the rest. That’s the kind of presence Rita Hayworth had. B+