Criterion Collection · Drama · Film Noir · United States

#795 Gilda (1946)




1946 // USA // Charles Vidor

Criterion Release Date: January 19, 2016 (LINK)

Gilda (Rita Hayworth) at her entrance

“Gilda, Are you decent?”, by swinging her fuzzy curled hair backwards and a close-up to her sensual face, Rita Hayworth, known as the titular character Gilda, became the Hollywood legend at this exact moment. It is one of the most memorable character entrance (not THE most by the way, no one can beat Orson Welles in The Third Man), introduced the elements of sexual and erotic gesture within a second. One may compare the importance of this scene with the same effect of Lauren Bacall’s immortal line, “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow.” in To Have and Have Not (1944). Men and women are immediately attracted to her, not only due to sexuality, but also the sense of mystery and danger.

Rita Hayworth owns the film, but she is not the first character we see, not even the character we normally follow in the entire plot. Instead, we are witnessing both the dark and glamour side of Argentina through a man’s looking glass. He is Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), a smart-assed thug who is “good” at gambling. He was attacked by a man in a dark alley whom he won money from, but rescued by the mysterious well-dressed man Ballin Mundson (George Macready) and his “little friend”, a crane with a hidden blade. One can interprets the crane as a homosexual metaphor which did showed up in the film from time to time, and played an important and deadly part at the end.

Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), Ballin Mundson (George Macready) and his “little friend”

Mundson invited Farrell to his casino, and through a series of events, hired him as his second hand. The homosexual interpretation is further supported by the continuous rapport between these two man, a master and a servant, a controller and a follower. Gilda, in my opinion, is either a smoke screen for evading censorship, or an objectified sexual symbol in the bisexuality. Gilda is married to Mundson, she is introduced to Farrell in the entrance scene mentioned earlier. But before Farrell knew her as Mrs Mundson, she is Farrell’s ex-lover. Their past was hidden from their “owner” (Mundson said in the film, he “bought” them with money, hence he was the “owner”), but the love-to-hate dynamics couldn’t bypass Mundson’s eyes.

Gilda raised the question of love and hate. They are the two sides of the same coin, full of passion and motivation. Gild did everything she could to arose Johnny’s jealousy, and Johnny did everything he could to prevent Gilda from enjoying her erratic behavior. At the same time, Gilda is a film noir that related to Nazi and organisation dealing with tungsten. One would recall Casablanca (1942) or Notorious (1946) upon watching Gilda, a mansion or a casino in the foreign country involving with Nazi, sounds familiar? (comedy-wise, you can count A Night in Casablanca (1946) as well)

Love and hate between Gilda and Johnny
Love Triangle

Frankly, the subplot of Mundson’s criminal activities did not play out too well in the film, it was pushed aside by the dominant sexual relationship of the main characters, and got really cheesy in the last act when one played dead in a plane crash. Glenn Ford, whose role as the far more captivating vengeance cop in The Big Heat (1953), was underplayed here as Johnny. Johnny is neither heroic nor weak, but there’s not one second that I believe Johnny knew what he was chasing after. In contrary, Gilda was always longing for Johnny, as the audience was not informed of their secretive past, it surely adds a layer to an otherwise soap-opera plot.

Gilda with her listener Uncle Pio (Steven Geray)
Rudolph Maté’s cinematography was undoubtedly superb, contrastingly lit in the noir-ish style, sharply capturing Rita Hayworth in her musical numbers. How can one be bad when he was the man behind the camera for The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and Vampyr (1932). But it’s Charles Vidor, a director whom I largely unknown of, that made Rita Hayworth a “love goddess”. Cover Girl (1944) was the first of their collaboration, which led to the success of Gilda. Still, Hayworth earned her own success. Beyond being sexy, there was loneliness behind Gilda’s eyes and reluctance in her spoiled behavior, my sympathy always lie on her character. I would re-watch the film just for Rita Hayworth, decent or not.
Film Rating: 4/5

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