Life Magazine called Rita
Hayworth “The Love Goddess.” Make no mistake—she was primarily known as one of the sex symbols of the 1940s. Nevertheless,
she was also a talented actress and a terrific dancer (she held her own with
Fred Astaire in a couple of movies). Strikingly beautiful, Hayworth was the
type of star who lit up the screen and oozed charisma. And her big breakthrough
to that position in Hollywood was Gilda,
the 1946 part-noir, part melodrama
that contained many of the iconic images for which Hayworth is famous.
Film noir historian Eddie
Muller, in a new interview included as one of the supplements, says Gilda is not film noir, although it’s got all the trappings. This is true. It’s
certainly made in the style of a film noir—the contrasting black and
white cinematography by Rudolph Maté (who later became a
director in his own right) is clearly derived from German expressionism, the
characters are untrustworthy and suspicious, and there’s a femme fatale.
wait—is Gilda really a femme fatale?
Not really. Sure, she’s manipulative and uses her sexuality to get the men in
her life to do what she wants; but Gilda is not a bad person—she’s just caught
in an uncomfortable situation and is acting out because she’s unhappy. A minor
subplot dealing with Mundson’s business dealings—with former Nazis—doesn’t
totally qualify Gilda as being a film noir, either. No, this is a movie
soap opera, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an entertaining piece of Hollywood
glamour that captures a cynical post-war mood prevalent in a lot of Hollywood
fare of the late 40s.
story takes place in Buenos Aires just as World War II is ending. Johnny
Farrell (Glenn Ford, in one of his significant roles as well) is a gambler,
drifter, and “tough guy” bumming around Argentina. There he meets a rich man,
Ballin Mundson (George Macready), who offers Johnny a job being his right hand
man at the casino. The two men work together well and become very chummy—until Mundson
returns from a weekend away with a gorgeous wife. She is, of course, Gilda
(Hayworth)—and it is immediately obvious she has a history with Johnny.
rest of the film is a melodramatic clash of wills within this triangle, and it’s
not a smooth ride. Much is made of the word “hate,” but in most cases in this
picture, that word really means “love.”
is quite good in the movie. She performs two song-and-dance numbers (for the
casino audience), but her singing voice is dubbed by Anita Ellis. These are signature
tunes—“Put the Blame on Mame” (done as a sultry striptease—almost), and “Amado
Mio.” (One wonders how Gilda managed to rehearse with the band and lighting
crew to do tight, theatrical show-stopping acts, seemingly on the fly.) At any
rate, Hayworth smolders as Gilda, and
she takes over every frame she’s in. Ford is fine, although he sure has a funny
way of hitting people. Macready provides the requisite sinister authority over
the other two characters, just as he would a decade later in Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory.
aspects are top notch—the photography, music, editing, sets, and especially the
costume design. Hayworth’s gowns are right out of the catalog of Hollywood dreams. Perhaps the only weak
element is the writing. The story feels jumbled a bit, but the dialogue is rich
with memorable one-liners. “If I was a ranch, I’d been named the Bar Nothing,” Gilda famously says. The
screenwriters had challenges on their hands. The Production Code prevented the
filmmakers from fully exploring the relationship that is really going on between Johnny and Mundson. It’s pretty muted, but
it’s there, folks. Ford’s character is much more enamored of his boss than a
regular employee would be. How that wrinkle plays into the stew once Hayworth
arrives is the heart and soul of the picture. Read between the lines and you’ll
fathom what the writers intended, but
couldn’t quite get past the censors.
Criterion Collection’s new high-definition digital restoration, with an
uncompressed monaural soundtrack, looks and sounds exemplary. A wonderful audio
commentary by film critic Richard Schickel, made in 2010, accompanies the film.
include the previously mentioned interview with Muller; an interesting 2010
discussion with filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann about the film;
“Hollywood and the Stars,” a 1964 television show about Hayworth’s career up to
that point; and the trailer. The fold-out insert contains a poster of Gilda on
one side and an essay by critic Sheila O’Malley.
tag line on the movie poster read: “There never was a woman like... Gilda!” That’s probably true. Put the Blame
on Mame, indeed!