Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Lovely Rita, Lethal Gilda

They say the love of a good woman can save a fallen man. Gilda (1946) is not about that kind of woman. It’s the story of a sultry siren who leads a man to his destruction, and with wanton malice aforethought. Masterfully directed by Charles Vidor, Gilda is textbook film noir, chock full of all the elements that define this quintessential 1940s genre.

Lurid and suggestive rather than explicit in their portrayals of the dark side of human nature, film noir provided a creative milieu in which verboten themes and subjects could be safely explored without breaking the stringent Production Code that promoted “clean and wholesome” moviemaking. 

Rita Hayworth triumphs in the title role
With Gilda, Vidor and cameraman Rudolph Maté pull out all the film noir stops, creating a moody, glittering black-and-white mise en scène. Set in steamy postwar Buenos Aires, the film transports the viewer to a shadowy underworld of rootless expatriate revelers who come out only after the sun goes down. (Indeed, every scene in the film takes place in the dark of night.)

All the classic elements of film noir are present and accounted for in this seminal film—a cynical worldview, sexual symbolism, the double-cross, even a Nazi subplot. Just about everyone’s pretending to be something they’re not—there’s even a masked Carnivale ball to underline the theme of falsity and impersonation. And at its apex is a poisonous love affair fueled by the most venal of impulses. 

Johnny (Glenn Ford) rolls the dice
Here, Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford display perhaps the most explosive and smolderingly sensual screen chemistry of any movie couple of the 1940s, far more than Stanwyck and MacMurray in Double Indemnity, or even Bogart and Bacall in To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep. Both their characters are opportunistic narcissists, forced to dance to the tune of the rich and powerful to make their way in the world, bartering their assets and skills for protection and security. Survival by any means, beginning with pretense and deception, is the only goal.

Unshaven and raggedly attired, armed only with his own set of specially weighted dice, Johnny Farrell (Ford) makes his own luck by cheating his way through life. But a chance (?) encounter with a wealthy benefactor, the sinister Ballin Mundson (George Macready), sparks his ambition and gives him the opportunity for respectability and the good life. Alas, Johnny’s newfound success turns out to be even more seamy and dangerous than his former life as two-bit hustler. 

Johnny, Ballin (George Macready) and his constant companion: "Just the three of us"
Johnny visits Mundson’s underground gambling establishment and insinuates himself into the proprietor’s good graces. There he will learn the cardinal rule of gambling: The house always wins--the establishment may let you cash in up to a point, but when you cross the line, you’re out. Or maybe even dead.

Even after quickly rising to the role of casino manager and confidante to Mundson, dressed in an impeccable tuxedo and tails, Johnny is nevertheless pegged as a peasant by the wise and wily restroom attendant Uncle Pio (Steven Geray). Though under the aegis of Ballin’s protection, Johnny will never be respected. 

Always be nice to your sugar daddy

But Johnny’s problems have only just begun, as a major complication threatens the security of his newfound berth. Mundson returns from a brief business trip with his beautiful new wife Gilda in tow—and the girl in question happens to be a former paramour with whom he did not part amicably, to put it kindly.

Gilda and Johnny’s karmic connection is based not on unrequited love and not on money. Hate and revenge are their aphrodisiacs, keeping both in a perpetual state of seething anger,  barely concealed contempt and unfulfilled sexual arousal. Indeed, in their first private moment together, Gilda whispers savagely, “You know how much I hate you, Johnny? I hate you so much I’d destroy myself to bring you down with me.” And so she will. 

Gilda delights in taunting Johnny
The diminutive and vaguely effeminate Ballin Mundson, who carries a silver-tipped cane as a substitute phallus, seems far more entranced and obsessed by Johnny than he is with wife Gilda, and studies his employee’s reaction to her with amused interest. Later, we’ll see Ballin voyeuristically spying on the lovers in flagrante delicto, while anxiously massaging the tip of his cane, which converts to a lethal weapon, an elegantly thrusting razor-sharp spear. (Voyeurism is a major theme here, beautifully illustrated by the shadow-casting electronic blinds in his office that give Mundson a birds-eye view of all the happenings in his casino and nightclub.)

At her new husband’s club, Gilda works hard to make a spectacle of herself, flirting brazenly with practically any man who shows interest— not to make Ballin jealous but to get her ex-lover and chaperone Johnny in trouble with his employer--and keep him hot, bothered and nearly frantic.

The character of hustler and pretty boy Johnny Farrell shows Ford at the flower of impetuous youth that would later give way to a more laconic, weathered and world-weary persona, but here his violent and explosive passion and desire for revenge more than match Gilda’s. In many ways, the film belongs to him. He gives a fierce performance as the hardened adventurer whose perfect setup is compromised by a dangerous doll who threatens to blow his cover. 

"I hate you so much I think I'm going to die from it."

The untamed redhead in the title role is played, of course, by Rita Hayworth (the former Margarita Cansino). After a long Hollywood buildup, during which she changed her name and dyed her dark Latina hair in various shades of red from strawberry blond to torrid sunset, Hayworth had paid her dues as an extra, bit player and featured actor. By the mid-1940s, Rita was now being recognized as an A-List star, appearing mostly in musicals and comedies opposite the likes of Cary Grant, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. She had played a femme fatale once or twice before, most notably in Blood and Sand opposite Tyrone Power, but here was a role that only came once in a lifetime; no wonder the publicity posters screamed, “There never was a woman like Gilda!”

Ballin Mundson sees all
Poured into a slinky strapless satin gown and breathing heavily, she sings “Put the Blame on Mame” and creates one of classic film’s most iconic moments with her titillating near-striptease. Though her vocal performance was reportedly dubbed by jazz singer Anita Ellis, Hayworth gives the song its sultry sizzle with her languid and suggestive dance moves.

The plot is too deliciously serpentine to reveal beat by beat, but suffice to say that Gilda is a gripping melodrama featuring iconic imagery, striking performances and a style that is copied in film noir homages to this day.

Though they costarred in several more films together, including The Loves of Carmen and Affair and Trinidad, plus a brief reunion years later with her cameo appearance in The Money Game, Hayworth and Ford never quite generated the same amount of raw heat as they had with Gilda.

Hayworth struggled to live up to the indelible screen image she had created. The many men in her life found it hard to separate the fiery love goddess character from the sweet, often insecure child-woman that Hayworth really was. And unlike Ford, Hayworth found it a little more rough going as she matured, often reduced to playing alcoholics and harridans in the latter part of her career. 

Another long, long night for Gilda
Gilda was a big break for Glenn Ford that propelled him to the top of the Hollywood food chain and kept him on a career trajectory that would last for decades, in genres as varied as war epics to westerns, romance, drama and family comedy. Ford would always be grateful to Rita for jump-starting his career with Gilda.

As a big fan of film noir, this is my absolute favorite, chiefly due to the searing chemistry of the two principal stars and the unsettling idea that hate can be as powerful as love. Gilda is the ultimate anti rom-com!

Big thanks to my friend Quiggy at The Midnite Drive-In for hosting the Film Noir Blogathon. I’m very excited to discover new blogs and immerse myself in this classic genre! 


William said...

I love the term "ultimate anti-rom com!"

As usual, an excellent analysis of a very interesting picture I have not seen in quite a while. George MacReady is one of my favorite character actors. He always has a special flair, especially for villainy, although he can, believe it or not, play lovable grandfatherly types as well -- and play them well, too.

As for "opportunistic narcissists" -- or narcissistic opportunists" -- they are an awful lot of fun to watch in movies but no one wants to encounter one in real life although, unfortunately, we all do! Some types of people should just stay on screen!

I love film noir. One of my favorites in the genre is "Too Late for Tears" with Lizabeth Scott.

(By the way, how does one get to be part of a "blogothon?" Invitation I guess?)

angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - Macready is indeed amazing in this picture, forming the apex of the love triangle with sinister elegance.

You don't need an invitation to participate in the blogathon, just visit the Midnite Drive-In blog and tell Quiggy you'd like to participate. The blogathon does not officially start till Friday, so there's still time. Here's the link:

As always, Bill, I thank you for your support and kind encouragement! It's great to connect with someone who passion for movies exceeds even my own...If only I could be as prolific as you!!

Sensei said...

I adore this film and enjoyed reading your write-up on it. To me, Gilda is far more sinned against than sinning, and I'm not convinced she actually sleeps with anyone in the film. Her striptease shows how women are blamed for everything, and Johnny is so cold and cruel to her it's painful to watch. Johnny is the lead, as you say: it's Glenn Ford's film. And I'd posit we have more evidence that Johnny is Ballin's lover than is Gilda, his wife. She is a possession, treasured by Ballin, scorned by Johnny. That she ends happily with Johnny is the film's true outrage. But perhaps my opinion is not strong enough, LOL.

Looking forward to reading more!

(This is BNoirDetour on Wordpress, btw.)

angelman66 said...

Hi Sensei, thanks so much for stopping by!

Agreed, of all the characters, Gilda is the least evil, and displays the most vulnerability (one of my favorite scenes is when she confides to her maid that she is superstitiously spooked the night of the Carnivale). And I don't think she was sleeping around, either, but pretending to in order to drive a man crazy and maybe even get him killed is just as reprehensible, in my book! LOL

And you are right - there is an indisputable homoerotic connection between Ballin and Johnny...but of course in the 1940s it could only be subtext. Freud would agree - that pointy cane means SOMETHING! ;-)

Thanks again for commenting!

Caftan Woman said...

The woman and the movie "Gilda" truly gets under your skin. It will come on the TV and I'll say "not tonight", but I don't mean it. I'll be sitting in the dark judging the characters while still caring for their plight, self-imposed as they are.

Truth to tell, I enjoyed your article as much as watching the movie. Nice.

Hamlette said...

Great review! I haven't seen this in some years, but you've got me wanting a rewatch ASAP.

angelman66 said...

Thanks for stopping by, Hamlette! Can't wait to delve into your Blue Dahlia post!!

angelman66 said...

Caftan Woman, thank you so much for the kind words!! You are so right, Gilda stays with you once you watch it, and you are drawn to it again and again. Hayworth really did embody the Love Goddess in this one...she is underrated as an actor.

Thanks for stopping by!

Silver Screenings said...

I agree that in many ways this is Ford's film. He and Hayworth are well matched in terms of talent and charisma. Brilliant casting.

Like a previous commenter said, this is a haunting film, one that's impossible NOT to watch. It's been quite a while since I've seen it, for some reason, but your insightful review has made it seem like I just watched it last night! :)

angelman66 said...

Hi Silver Screenings, thanks so much for coming by and for your compliment, hope I was able to evoke some of the magic of a film I admire so much!

Glenn Ford does deserve our kudos...this is just as much an iconic performance for him as for Hayworth! He is dynamite as Johnny!

Simoa said...

I love it when people analyze this film, and this was no exception! Beautifully written and made me wonder how this plays out, even though I've already seen it. Guess I'm due for a rewatch.

angelman66 said...

Hi Simoa, thanks for visiting and commenting! Looking forward to exploring your blog...looks like we have a lot of favorite films in common!
And there's nothing better than watching them again and again!

Quiggy said...

Now I have to see it. As I said before, my only previous encounter with "Gilda" was the brief head-flip scene used in "The Shawshank Redemption". More sensual than "Double Indemnity", I could see, but more than even Bogart and Bacall? And that singing scene sounds vaguely reminiscent of Jessica Rabbit in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" Wonder if they used this movie as a springboard?

angelman66 said...

Quiggy, you are absolutely right, Jessica Rabbit was inspired by Rita Hayworth as Gilda...
Bogie and Bacall were hot, but I think Hayworth and Ford are truly explosive here. Let me know your thoughts when you see it.

Your blogathon is a triumph--so many amazing films and bloggers, and it's only Day One! Bravo to you, and thanks.

Todd B. said...

I own this one, and have yet to watch it...time to set a night aside! It sounds like a good one, and I'm curious to see just how much heat Ford and Hayworth generate compared to other noir couples. Actually, to hell with Ford; based on the photos above, Hayworth generates enough heat on her own!

angelman66 said...

Hi Todd, I think you'll find Glenn Ford generates a lot of heat and star power here too--enjoy! Thanks for reading and commenting!
- Chris

Joey Halphen said...

Wonderful artcle on a classic movie which i list on my top 15 noir movies.

angelman66 said...

Thanks, Joey, for stopping by! Your list has given me even more noire to add to my long list of must-sees. Awesome blogathon!

Flapper Dame 16 said...

I love Gilda- one day I will have perfect hair like her- ONE DAY! I just want to be as fabulous- without a doubt the most harsh of the femme fatales- yet we still love her- its Rita how can we not?

angelman66 said...

I think Rita's native vulnerability always shows through, and she manages to make the character sympathetic despite her obsessin with revenge. And yes, her hair is enviously glorious here!!
Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Flapper Dame!

J.D. Lafrance said...

You write,"Both their characters are opportunistic narcissists, forced to dance to the tune of the rich and powerful to make their way in the world, bartering their assets and skills for protection and security. Survival by any means, beginning with pretense and deception, is the only goal."

Yeah! Well said! I recently picked up the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray of this film and can't wait to dive in. I'm ashamed to say that I have never seen this classic noir but your review has certainly piqued my curiousity.

angelman66 said...

I'm sure you're gonna love it, J.D., and the Criterion Blu-ray is awesome. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Great review! I love this film. Rita Haworth and Glenn Ford are fantastic together.


Anonymous said...

Hayworth *

angelman66 said...

Hi Carol! Thank you!! And by the way, Rita's stage name was based upon her mother Volga's maiden name - Haworth without the "y"!!


Anonymous said...

Great movie, and Rita Hayworth never looked more beautiful. Put The Blame On Mame is of the sexiest scenes in movie history.

angelman66 said...

Hi Armando, I totally agree! One of the greats, and Put the Blame on Mame is one of the sexiest musical numbers ever!
Thanks for stopping by!


Wonderful review! Rita is fantastic in the film, although it belongs to Ford. The fact that so many people believed she was this sex goddess shows how much of a great actress she was - even though it made her personal life rougher from then on.
Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

angelman66 said...

Hi Le - thank you so much for stopping by! Rita was painfully shy and never liked looking glamorous or wearing slinky gowns. Even when she was the Princess Aly Khan, she would go around in blue jeans and sweaters far before it was fashionable, her hair up in a kerchief and no makeup!

Can't wait to read your Film Noir entry! On my way there soon!!

Ken Anderson said...

Hi Chris
For all the movie obscurities I've seen, there seem to be an equal amount of cinema classics I've yet to settle down to watch; Gilda is one of them. I love film noir and I've seen Hayworth's musical number many times, but I've never seen the film in toto.
Your terrific post whets my appetite and beautifully lays out a catalog of scenes to look out for.
It's high time I gave "Gilda" her due. Very much enjoyed reading your thoughts on this enduring classic!

angelman66 said...

Hi Ken, thanks for visiting! Yes, I think you'll love this one as much as I do...the dark and melancholy moods, the themes of love and hate, the wonderful character actors, the chemistry of Ford and Hayworth, the stylish production design and's just a perfect movie, all around. Hope you agree!

Rick Gould said...

Hey Chris-Thanks for responding on my Blog today, I'd respond there, but the little comment icon keeps spinning!

About YOUR blog could hardly choose better than "Gilda" for the sexiest noir ever.
That same year, "The Postman Always Rings Twice" came out and is also considered a classic.
BUT, I never felt Lana had Rita's natural sensuality. Turner seemed like the most pristine white diner waitress in the whole USA ; )

And to tweak a title from another Hayworth movie, Rita was never lovelier than in "Gilda."

PS, I thought the Ballin character was kinda sexy in a perverse way!

Cheers! And add me to your list of blogs if you like...
And when I figure out how to do the same on my blog, I will ; )


angelman66 said...

Hi Rick -thanks for visiting and commenting on Gilda! I love your blog too, your subject matter is right up my alley!
I never thought of Glenn Ford as a hottie until this movie...and George Macready as Ballin has a sinister sensuality as well...
Loved your post on Metalious and Susann, by the way!