Friday, September 2

Good 40s Films: Gilda

1946 Film Noir
From Columbia Pictures
Directed by Charles Vidor

Rita Hayworth
Glenn Ford
George Macready
Joseph Calleia
Steven Geray
We have mentioned Gilda in postings on Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, director Charles Vidor and here and there in numerous other pieces so it's time to lavish some praise on the film in its own tribute. Boy oh boy, do I love Gilda.

A tag line associated with the film is there's never been a woman like Gilda.  Without a doubt there has never been a first screen appearance as iconic as the first time we meet her.  Even if you've never seen the film, you've likely scene the following clip on any number of film montage sequences. The actress, never displayed so enticingly, was famous for her long red locks and they might even be declared the star of the film.

Let's introduce YOU to Gilda before we proceed.  Get her in your blood.

The scene also introduces us to the fact that the newly-married Gilda obviously knew Johnny Farrell before her husband introduced them.  And it's immediately apparent that Gilda and Johnny have hatred running through their veins.  In another line scrawled across many posters is I was true to one man before... and look what happened.  For Gilda, that man was Johnny. So often in the movies that man was someone named Johnny.  He was the man who done her wrong.

We know from the beginning that we are dealing with three perverse characters. Johnny is downright repugnant.  Gilda is a gorgeous tramp out to drop men to their knees in her attempt to climb to the top of the dung heap.  Ballin (her husband), before film's end, will want to kill them both.  A lethal threesome... let there be no doubt.

The film opens with Johnny cheating at a dice game on a waterfront pier in Buenos Aires.  A short time later he gets a gun in his ribs during a robbery attempt.  Ballin, with his cane and its retractable switchblade, not only comes to Johnny's defense but hires him to floor manage the gambling casino that he owns.

Once Johnny is introduced to Gilda as his employer's new wife (she only knew him one day when she married him although Johnny says Ballin bought her), the battle lines are drawn by both ex-lovers.  Throughout, the audience is treated to the most delicious slings and arrows imaginable (Gilda telling Johnny how much she hates him is priceless).  I experience unrestrained glee watching the looks shooting between the two with the camera quickly flashing to Ballin who is no fool regarding the shenanigans. When Gilda finally admits to Ballin that she knew Johnny previously but hates him, Ballin oozes his sexual perversity when he purrs that hate can be an exciting emotion

Ballin, of course, is involved in some unsavory business dealings that have little or nothing to do with gambling and he ends up killing a man and another man tries to kill Ballin.  He silently observes Gilda and Johnny in what he thinks is an infidelity and no doubt feels that the two have been hoodwinking him all along with their displays of hatred.  He's wrong at this point and he flies off and it is reported that he is killed in a plane crash.

Gilda, through all her venom, secretly wishes things were better with Johnny.  That means not only better than they are now but better than they ever were.  Her hopefulness doesn't escape Johnny and they marry. She's looking to make kiss-kiss and nice-nice while he's plotting to make her suffer even more.

When she gets clued in to his deception, it puts her back into her hateful mood but she takes to the stage and belt out a song. She finds two occasions to do that. Gilda, after all, was a nightclub entertainer before impulsively marrying Ballin.  Getting to sing adds to Hayworth's femme fatale allure.  

First up is Amado Mio with Rita resplendent in her form-fitting gown, sashaying around the stage.  Then comes the iconic Put the Blame on Mame.  Shoved into a gravity-defying black gown and throwing that red mane around as she simulates some strip-teasing and perfectly lip-synching the saucy song, she is as pure sex as the movies were likely to offer to folks in 1946.  The thing is, it is still something to behold to this day.

Ok, where were we?  Just writing that paragraph has made me wander off from my train of thought.  The film takes on a different hue for the final act and I  have a bit of a problem with it.  It begins when Gilda and Johnny make up in what I have always regarded as a flimsy, rather awkward transition.  It seemed out of place, not in keeping with the integrity of the story and the upbeat finale is not in line with most film noirs.  The funny thing is I actually liked what they did but it just wasn't a good fit for this film.  As such, it probably aided in my not including the film in my top 50 favorites and in general keeps Gilda from sharing the same film noir honors that, say, Double Indemnity, Out of the Past and The Postman Always Rings Twice share.  Be assured, however, it was not a deal-breaker for this film that is abundant with good stuff.

One thing Gilda does share with those other films is an iconic lead character.  And as remarkable as Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Greer and Lana Turner are in those other films, only Rita Hayworth's character was also the title.  How easy it becomes to knock the public over the head with there's never been a woman like Gilda. And there she is on that poster... that languorous, bare-shouldered body, dragging a fur along the ground, a cigarette between her fingers and her hair thrown back.  This was Gilda... alluring, dangerous... confident.  She knew what she had.  We knew it, too.

It is the role of a beautiful actress' dreams. Despite the fact that Columbia Pictures (and head honcho Harry Cohn, who love-hated Rita Hayworth) set out to bring the actress into the consciousness of every man so inclined, few knew how successful they would become.  Hayworth, of course, was already quite imbedded in the public's consciousness but the attention Gilda brought to Hayworth's life genuinely shattered the shy actress.  She would always say that her big problem was that men fell in love with Gilda and wakened with me.

I was mightily impressed with Glenn Ford as well.  What a scumbag Johnny Farrell was. And tell you what... don't give up on any actor just because you don't particularly care for him.  See him instead in some sort of unflattering role, the scumbaggier the better, and you might come away appreciating the work.  I think this is the best job that Ford ever turned in.

I cannot overstate the joy I have always had at watching the sparks fly between Gilda and Johnny.  It opens up the channels to observe their jealousies, plots against the other, love, obsessions, taunts, teases and hatreds. Some of the bitchy dialogue they were given are lines I once wanted to remember in case I could use them when love went wrong. I hate you so much I would destroy myself to take you down with me was definitely one of my favorites, said by Gilda to Johnny.  Of course there are those slaps... he famously slaps her in one scene and she slaps him multiple times in another. 
(She actually broke two of his teeth.) 

There are some films that feature a great pairing of an actor and an actress and I think the names of Hayworth and Ford deserve to be among them.  Friends and for years nextdoor neighbors, making five films together, they were never better than they were in Gilda

I have always known who character actor George Macready was because of Gilda.  He was a genius at quiet menace.  He, too, never had a better role.

I usually do not go around trying to inject a homoerotic subtext into films but I swear there was one here between Johnny and Ballin.  It may have not been as clear as the misogyny but I felt the hairs stand on the back of my head in a couple of scenes.

Not from the film but just a publicity still

The supporting cast is small and letter-perfect.  A quick shout-out to the final two names mentioned at the beginning of this, Steven Geray and Joseph Calleia, is warranted.  Both are characters actors whose faces you would instantly recognize. Geray plays the casino's savvy washroom attendant who has some of the film's most amusing lines, and Calleia is a cop who seems more like a criminal as he skulks around the others.

Director Vidor, who is actually a fine director but one who perhaps lacked a discernible style, is fortunate to have been assigned to direct Gilda chiefly because it became such a famous movie, guaranteeing him a degree of lasting fame.  He certainly needs to be lauded for the look he and various designers created... especially those wonderful noir shadows and light.  Bravo to Jean Louis for the gorgeous clothes he created for Hayworth.  I don't think I have ever mentioned a hairdresser in these postings, and I may never again, but kudos certainly need to go to Columbia stylist Helen Hunt for turning Hayworth's tresses into works of wonder.

The film brought a lot of money into Columbia.  Everything about it was a success, except for, occasionally, some carping about that ending.  It is always mentioned in a list of the great noirs.  It's not the greatest, but it's up there.  No single noir has probably ever done more for an actress than Gilda did for Hayworth.

I'll tidy this up with a comment on the poster above.  Did anyone note that it claims King Vidor is the director when, in fact, it is Charles Vidor?  Jus' sayin'.

Next posting:
Movie review


  1. There are many good movies remembered either for the plot or for the performance of the actress, the actor or all together.Sometimes the actress, in spite of her good job, might have been easily replaced with another one. I think that history of movies has plenty of these. Not so for GILDA.
    GILDA is Rita's movie.No doubt. Beauty, class, sex appeal, elegance: can you imagine someone with all these talents? Yes, maybe Ava, but Rita came first. Needless to say that I did enjoied your post from the very first line even though the word " shenanigans"drove me crazy. I usually rely on my intuition. This time Holy Webster's helped me out.
    What a movie! and what a post!

  2. As always, Carlo, so glad you enjoyed. I thought that "Gilda" would be a film you would like. Sorry about "shenanigans." LOL.