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            Charles Vidor

            Biografie

            Hungarian-born Karoly Vidor spent the First World War as a lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian infantry. Following the armistice, he made his way to Berlin and worked for the German film company Ufa, as editor and assistant director. In 1924, he emigrated to the U.S. and, for several years, earned his living as a singer in Broadway choruses and (at one time) with a Wagnerian troupe. While little detail is extant of this period in his career, it enabled him to accumulate the means with which to finance his own project: an experimental short film entitled The Bridge (1929). On the strength of this, he was signed by MGM to co-direct his first feature film The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932). For the remainder of the decade, Vidor worked with relatively undistinguished material at various studios, notably RKO (1935) and Paramount (1936-37). In 1939, he joined Columbia, where he remained under contract until 1948.

            Vidor's career is something of an enigma. Never a particularly prolific filmmaker, his output has been variable. It includes a good-looking, but decidedly stodgy romance, The Swan (1956) (starring Grace Kelly in her penultimate screen role); and the interminably dull remake of A Farewell to Arms (1957). On the other side of the ledger is the lavish showbiz biopic of singer Ruth Etting, Love Me or Leave Me (1955), for which Vidor elicited powerhouse performances from his stars Doris Day and James Cagney. Frank Sinatra, also, gave one of his best performances as nightclub entertainer Joe E. Lewis, descending into alcoholism in The Joker Is Wild (1957). Other Vidor standouts are Ladies in Retirement (1941), a gothic Victorian thriller, tautly directed and maintaining its suspense, despite a relatively claustrophobic setting (among the cast, as Lucy the maid, was actress Evelyn Keyes, who became Vidor's third wife in 1944). Finally, two Rita Hayworth vehicles, the breezy musical Cover Girl (1944), and Vidor's principal masterpiece, the archetypal film noir Gilda (1946). This cleverly plotted, morally ambiguous tale of intrigue and ménage-a-trois was one of Columbia's biggest money-earners to date.

            Some of the wittier dialogue in "Gilda" was voiced in re-takes, long after primary filming had been completed. The same applies to the two main musical numbers, the show-stopping "Put the Blame on Mame", and "Amado Mio". Yet, under Vidor's direction, all the dramatic and musical elements blended perfectly. The film has an undeniably electric atmosphere, largely due to the chemistry between the three leads. When the same material was later re-worked as Affair in Trinidad (1952) (with a bigger budget), that chemistry was notably absent.

            In 1948, Vidor fell out with studio boss Harry Cohn, taking him to court for alleged verbal abuse and exploitation. He wanted out of his contract. Having just married Doris Warner, daughter of Warner Brothers president Harry M. Warner, Vidor sensed opportunities in working at a more prestigious studio. Cohn wasn't going to let him go quietly. It was pretty much all over, when actor Steven Geray testified, that he had himself been on the receiving end of invective at the hands of Vidor on the set of "Gilda". Glenn Ford, who thought Vidor opportunistic, then went on the stand, relating, that Cohn routinely used foul language on everyone around him, rather than aiming at any individual in particular. The fact that Vidor was not the easiest man to get along with, became evident during filming of the Liszt biopic Song Without End (1960). Both his stars (Dirk Bogarde and Capucine) found him to be ill-tempered and erratic. However, since Vidor died before the film was completed (George Cukor taking over), other factors may have played a part. In the final analysis, for "Gilda" alone, Charles Vidor deserves a niche in Hollywood heaven.

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