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2019 CMBA Spring Blogathon: Femme/Homme Fatales: Elsa Bannister From The Lady From Shanghai(1947)

CMBA Blogathon

The Classic Movie Blog Association is hosting this blogathon all about Femme and Homme Fatales in Film Noir. Be sure to visit the CMBA site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. I’ve decided to write about Elsa Bannister from The Lady From Shanghai. There are spoilers ahead about what happens to this character.

I am such a big fan of Film Noir. I think I would even go so far as to call myself a Noir addict. Noir films are absolutely amazing!One of my favourite things about Noir films is the strong and memorable roles that these films offered to actresses during the classic film era. Many actresses did some of their best work in Noir films. 

Few characters are more memorable in Noir films than the Femme Fatales. Femme Fatales are very clever and strong women. They are also dangerous, dominating, intriguing, sexy, and most important of all, they are very alluring. Femme Fatales are women who draw men to them like flames draw moths.

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Rita Hayworth as Elsa Bannister. Is she a victim or a villainess? Screenshot by me.

One of my favourite Femme Fatales is Elsa Bannister(Rita Hayworth)in The Lady From Shanghai. Elsa is a very interesting Femme Fatale, because while she is certainly a ruthless and clever manipulator, she also ends up destroying herself and leading herself to her own fate.

One look at Elsa Bannister and you have no difficulty understanding why Michael(Orson Welles)falls under her spell. Elsa is a prime example of a woman who men should stay well away from. Elsa is one of the most unforgettable Femme Fatales in the history of Noir films. She has the ability to make herself seem vulnerable and unhappy one moment, and then she becomes a cold and calculating b***h the next moment. Elsa is a good actress and knows exactly how to get and keep her audiences (in this case Michael)attention. 

Rita Hayworth’s trademark thick red hair was cropped and dyed blonde for this role. This was done on the instruction of director Orson Welles(also Rita’s husband at the time of filming), this decision angered the Columbia studio head, Harry Cohen. In my view Mr. Cohen should have chilled out. Orson Welles was right to transform Rita for this role. Rita’s new look works wonders for the character.

                                     Rita’s new screen image. Screenshots by me. 

The effect of her new image makes Rita look like Deborah Kerr’s Karen in From Here To Eternity. Much as it did for Deborah Kerr in that film, Rita’s new screen image as Elsa makes her look sexier, harder and cooler than she had ever done before. Rita oozes sex and seduction whenever you see her on screen in this film. 

This role was quite a change for Rita. She usually played quite bubbly characters who were basically good girls.Even her iconic character in Gilda is really a good and decent woman. The role of Elsa enabled Rita to play a darker and crueller character than audiences were used to seeing her play. 

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Elsa and Michael. Screenshot by me.

When Michael first meets Elsa he can’t keep his distance from her. It really isn’t difficult to see why he is so drawn to her. He wants her, he thinks endlessly about her, and he is wrongly led to believe that she needs him and likes him.

Elsa (just like all Femme Fatales) is like one of those deadly sirens from the old Greek legends. She is an irresistible and alluring being who leads men to a most unpleasant doom indeed.   

Elsa Bannister may well be beautiful and desirable on the outside, but inside she is cold, selfish and heartless. We may at first feel some pity for her at having such an unhappy marriage, but we soon learn that Elsa doesn’t really deserve our sympathy at all. Elsa may well want to break free from her marriage prison, but setting up Michael and leading him on isn’t the way to break free to happiness.

Elsa is clever, but she is also a poor judge of character and is way too sure of herself. When she lures Michael into her web she is also inadvertently sealing her own fate. When he learns that she planned to set him up for murder, Michael is quickly done with her forever. Michael walks away from her after she is shot in the fun house finale. Michael will never be able to forget her though. He will also never lose his genuine feelings for her, but he is at least now free to live in the light and try and have some sort of a happy life.

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Elsa is every inch a Femme Fatale. Screenshot by me.

When Michael gets wise to Elsa, she learns(all too late)the cost of using people and treating them like dirt.

Elsa is still so sure till the last moment of her life that she is irresistible to Michael. She is still so sure that things will go her way. 

She soon realises that she isn’t as irresistible as she thinks. The irony is that Michael genuinely cared about her. Michael could have made her happy if she had gone away with him and not used him. Unfortunately the only person Elsa has ever loved is herself.  

Elsa Bannister dies alone, crying and screaming for help. While her fate may sound rather cold and cruel, her death is actually the fate that she deserved. As deserved as it is, it certainly can’t be denied that Elsa’s death is a lonely and harsh one. Her death sees her lying on the floor of the dark hall of mirrors, discarded like a piece of rubbish that has been dropped on the floor.

Elsa’s behaviour and fate stand as a warning to all the characters who we see throughout Film Noir. Getting too wrapped up in revenge, temptation, lust, murder, and hate can only end in unhappiness and death. You can only use and push people so far before they push back. You can only step so far into the darkness before you are consumed entirely by it. 

I find it very difficult to imagine any other actress in the role of Elsa Bannister. Rita inhabits and plays the role of Elsa Bannister to perfection. Rita’s performance is seductive and mesmerising. It’s one of Rita’s best performances in my opinion. With Rita playing Elsa, the character could also be viewed as showing us what could have happened to Rita’s other famous character in Gilda. Imagine what Gilda would have been like if she had lost her warmth and instead become soulless and cold? I think we have the answer to that in the form of Elsa Bannister. 

Elsa Bannister leaves a lasting impression on anyone who watches Lady From Shanghai. She has become one of the most iconic of the Noir Femme Fatales. What are your thoughts on Elsa?

Do you love Film Noir? If you do, I would love to invite you to join my Noirathon.

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Blogathons, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Rita Hayworth Centenary Blogathon: My Tribute To Rita

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Michaela over at Love Letters To Old Hollywood is hosting this blogathon to mark the centenary of Rita Hayworth’s birth. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

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Rita in You Were Never Lovelier. Screenshot by me.

I was so happy when I saw Michaela announce this blogathon. I am such a huge fan of Rita Hayworth, and I was absolutely delighted to see her being honoured by a blogathon.

I am in awe at how talented Rita was. I think it’s great that she was able to get the opportunity to show off her acting and dancing skills in her films.  

Seeing Rita on screen makes me smile and feel happy. She has such a positive aura about her and you can detect it. She always seemed so bubbly, energetic and happy.    

I first became a fan of Rita when I saw her in the film Gilda. Her performance in that totally blew me away. She stole every single second of the film that she appeared in. I loved how she played the character and made her so much more than a mere object of male desire. Gilda is a complicated and multi-faceted woman and Rita conveys that personality so well to us. 

Rita was such a talented, vibrant, beautiful and funny woman. She was also someone who was full of life and that clearly shows on screen. When Rita comes on that screen she draws you in, this means that you can’t take your eyes off her for even a second when she is in a scene. Rita had that mystical and enchanting glow about her, the very same glow that the likes of Clara Bow, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Louise Brooks also all had. 

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Rita dancing with Fred in You’ll Never Get Rich. Screenshot by me.

Not only was Rita a very talented film actress, but she was also one of the most amazing dancers too.

In my opinion she is also the only female dance partner who was ever able to match the speed and dance ability of the great Fred Astaire on screen.

Fred worked alongside many talented female dancers throughout his career, but I firmly believe that in Rita Hayworth he found his perfect dancing partner. Rita would star alongside Fred in You’ll Never Get Rich, and in You Were Never Lovelier. I think it’s a real shame that the pair didn’t make more films together. 

I also feel a connection to Rita for a personal reason. Rita was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in the 1980’s, with the disease eventually taking her life in 1987. A few years ago my gran was diagnosed with mixed Dementia, which is a combination of Alzheimer’s and another type of Dementia. My gran has since died from this disease.  

This is very difficult and upsetting for me to talk about. I know only too well from my personal experience how scared and confused Rita would have been when she was sadly struck down by this evil disease. I also know how distressing and frightening it would have been for her family and friends to see her suffer with that horror. It breaks my heart to know how Rita’s life ended. Some good came of Rita’s terrible diagnosis though due to the huge level of publicity around her diagnosis. Rita’s high profile case drew a great deal of international attention to the disease, her case also led to a huge increase in funding for Alzheimer’s research. 

In 1985, Rita’s daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, set up The Rita Hayworth Gala, this is an Alzheimer’s benefit which is still held annually to this day. I like to think that Rita would have been very proud and moved to see how much good has been done in her name to try and help others suffering from this horrific disease.

Rita Hayworth was born in New York, on October 17th, 1918. Rita was of Spanish-American descent and she was the oldest of three children. Her birth name was Margarita Carmen Cansino. Her parents were the dancer Eduardo Cansino, and his wife, Volga Hayworth.

Rita’s parents had met when they were both working in the Ziegfeld Follies. Dancing and acting were in Rita’s blood, so it is really no surprise that she went right out and followed in her parents footsteps. Rita had equal amounts of talent as both an actress and a dancer, and she got to show us all just how talented she was in the many films that she made. 

I think that the best way to honour Rita on her centenary is for us to discuss and recommend her film performances. I’ve picked a few films which I think highlight Rita’s talents as an actress and dancer. The following films are also all great favourites of mine, and I highly recommend them to anyone who hasn’t seen Rita in a film before.

 

Gilda (1946)

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Rita in Gilda. Screenshot by me.

Once I had seen Rita in this film, I just knew that I would have to try and see as many of her other films as I possibly could.

From her first scene (where she does that famous hair flip)to her last, Rita steals every second of film that she appears in. I think that she is sorely missed when she isn’t in a scene in this film.

Rita makes Gilda sexy, confident, strong, vulnerable, passionate and tender. I cannot imagine another actress having been able to have played this character the way that Rita did. It isn’t hard to see why this one has become the iconic Rita Hayworth film and performance.

 

Down To Earth (1947)

This extremely underrated gem is my favourite Rita Hayworth film. This is such a fun and dazzling musical.  I also like this film because Rita looks like she having so much fun in it. Rita also gets to show off her dancing skills here.

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Rita in Down To Earth. Screenshot by me.

The film is a sequel to Here Comes Mr. JordanRita plays Terpsichore, the Greek Goddess of music and dance.

Terpsichore is appalled when she learns about a new stage musical depicting herself and the other Greek muses as man hungry women, who are all vying for the attention of two American pilots. 

Terpsichore gets the permission of heavenly messenger Mr. Jordan to go down to earth and sort out the musical. She works hard to make its depiction of the muses more accurate, and to also improve the song and dance routines. 

Rita seems ethereal in this film, so much so that you totally buy her as a goddess descended from the heavens. I also really love how energetic she is in her dance scenes in this. This is a lovely and entertaining film, of which Rita is the heart and soul. You can’t go wrong with this one if you are in the mood for an uplifting and entertaining film. It’s also great to see Rita filmed in colour for a change too.

 

The Lady From Shanghai (1947)

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Rita in Lady From Shanghai. Screenshot by me.

Playing against type(and with her famous red hair dyed blonde and cut short)Rita enters Film Noir territory. She is very much at home in this world of dark shadows, betrayal, and schemes.

Rita plays Elsa, a cold-hearted woman with a clever plan up her sleeve. Elsa’s mistake is believing that the man she uses for her own ends(played by Orson Welles) will love her no matter what she does. 

Her new image in this film makes her seem harder, cooler and sexier than she ever had been before on the screen. I don’t know about anyone else, but I get some serious Lana Turner and Claire Trevor vibes from Rita’s performance and look in this film. Her excellent performance here also makes me wonder why she was never again cast as a femme fatale like the one she plays here

 

Not all that familiar with Rita and her films? In that case then I highly recommend that you check her out in the following films: Lady From Shanghai, Miss Sadie Thompson, Down To Earth, Cover Girl, You Were Never Lovelier, Gilda, Affair In Trinidad, They Came To Cordura, Separate Tables and You’ll Never Get Rich.  

It is now one hundred years since Rita’s birth. This hugely talented woman is still bringing joy to classic film fans around the world. Rita was one of the brightest stars in the classic film night sky, and I think that her star still shines as brightly today as it did back in the classic film era.  

Happy 100th to you Rita. Thanks for sharing your talent with us. R.I.P.

Are you a fan of Rita Hayworth? Which of Rita’s films are your favourites?