Film Title: Gilda
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Silent or Talkie: Talkie
Genre: Film Noir
- Rita Hayworth
- Glenn Ford
- George Macready
- Joseph Calleia
Rita Hayworth didn’t earn her nickname of “The Love Goddess” for nothing. Gilda is perhaps one of her best known performances and a film in which she would become immortalized as a playful seductress. Hayworth had been married to Orson Welles for three years when Gilda was released and they would divorce only two years later. She would be married a total of five times over the course of her career. One can only speculate as to whether the film’s tagline (seen on the poster below) echoed sentiments of Rita’s personal life. Nevertheless, she was a star beyond the boundaries of imagination and the crown jewel in this 1946 classic.
Directed by Charles Vidor (who’d also directed Hayworth in 1944’s “Cover Girl” with Gene Kelly), Gilda stars Rita Hayworth in the title role and Glenn Ford as Johnny Farrell. The film is set in Buenos Aires at the height of World War II. Johnny is down and out; his very future depends on the rolling dice in the opening scene. He manages to win some money and takes off before the angry sailors can recoup their losses. As he stops to count his small windfall, a would-be robber sticks a gun in his back and demands everything, but is stopped by an unseen “hero”. This hero is Ballin Mundson (George Macready), a thin gentleman whose cane is equipped with a concealed, spring-loaded filleting knife. Mundson warns Johnny about gambling with his own dice, and then invites him to an exclusive (albeit illegal) gambling club which he owns. Johnny arrives at the club and is confronted by two men who take him up to Mundson’s office. Before long, Johnny becomes a rudimentary caretaker for the seemingly frail Mundson. He is put in charge of overseeing the casino’s operations and is also responsible for the basic needs of his boss. In a way, Johnny has landed his dream job – a job which literally saves him from near destitution. He’s grateful to Mundson and carries his duties with the utmost loyalty, until “someone” diverts his attention. Mundson introduces Johnny to his new wife, Gilda, who he’d married after only knowing her for a day. Johnny’s facial expression suggests an issue much too deep for a first meeting; he’d known Gilda before, and the two were once together. Gilda is stunningly beautiful with a siren’s lure. She playfully drops innuendos in random conversation, as if she enjoys watching men react in frustration. Johnny is determined to keep his cool and remain unaffected by Gilda. Mundson soon gives him the job of looking after her, as she is too beautiful to walk the casino alone. Johnny doesn’t want the job (due to the sexual tension) but reluctantly agrees.
During one of their encounters, Gilda indirectly confesses to Johnny that she’d married Mundson for his fortune. Johnny had suspected it all along, but never blatantly accused her of such shallowness. She also tells him that she’s still in love with him (Johnny), and has been all along, despite her meaningless romps with numerous men. Johnny reacts with cold indifference, which is obviously an act to cover the mutual attraction growing between them. In the midst of the romantic confusion, Johnny is consistently visited by two German men trying to get to Mundson. The men appear to have a profound interest in the casino’s operation. Johnny goes into caretaker-mode and tries to protect Mundson from the visitors. He’s also determined to protect Mundson from heartbreak by concocting stories that explain Gilda’s whereabouts (while she’s out living the “single” life). Mundson begins to grow more suspicious with each passing day. His narcissistic rants imply that Johnny is courting Gilda behind his back. Gilda intervenes on Johnny’s behalf, denying any involvement and stating that he is merely doing his best to protect her from opportunists. Mundson doesn’t buy it, but drops the issue. When a carnival is held on the grounds, one of Mundson’s German enemies is suddenly murdered. Johnny rushes to get Mundson out of harm’s way, but Mundson instead tells him to escort Gilda home. Back at the empty home, Johnny finally submits to Gilda’s seduction. The two are locked in a kiss when the sound of a closing door interrupts the moment. Johnny catches the tail end of Mundson storming out and assumes that he and Gilda have been caught. Mundson flees in a private plane, which appears to crash into the ocean a few minutes after takeoff. Assuming the worse, Johnny returns to find Mundson’s will, which names Gilda as the sole beneficiary and he as the executor. Johnny explains to the authorities that Gilda is too distraught, and that he will handle the inheritance. He takes the casino over and marries Gilda almost instantly. Immediately after the marriage, he deserts her like a stranger and again becomes a callous robot. Despite her attempts to be near him, he pushes her away. Gilda finally leaves Buenos Aires and takes a job as a nightclub singer. She also plans to divorce Johnny, who arranges for a decoy “gentleman caller” to lead her back to the casino. When she realizes she’s been had, she goes on a tearful rampage and vows to get an annulment. Johnny once again discredits her and walks away. Later, he is attending to business when a familiar voice floods the entire building. He looks through his office blinds to see Gilda on stage in a dazzling black dress, singing “Put the Blame on Mame” to a crowd of salivating men. He storms down to the dining area to drag her away, smacking her after they’re out of view. The police have arrived to investigate the legality of the business; and when Gilda packs to leave once more, a surprise visitor returns with vengeful eyes. The shocking conclusion drags all parties into the ring to settle a score.
Gilda was a definite turning point in Rita Hayworth’s career. She’d started out at an early age dancing with her parents, and most of her work in the 1930’s billed her as Rita Cansino (her birth name being Margarita Carmen Cansino). Her roles seemed to improve once her name was changed. The 1940’s brought a flurry of work, nearly every year up until and after Gilda was released. The film would prove to be a gift and a curse for Rita, who once said: “Every man I have ever known has fallen in love with Gilda and awakened with me”. Be that as it may, her portrayal of the torrid femme fatale made her the #1 pinup during World War II. In 1994’s “The Shawshank Redemption” (partially set in the 40’s), the convicts are watching Gilda in a prison theater, and Tim Robbins’ character asks for a poster of Rita Hayworth to be smuggled in to his cell. This all but proves that Rita’s allure was synonymous with the era. Glenn Ford was quite effective as the guarded Johnny Farrell. Ford played Farrell on an even keel, never really going too over-the-top or producing unnecessary drama. This approach worked extremely well in conjunction with the blatant suggestiveness of Hayworth’s Gilda. Ford was roughly ten years into his career at the time of the film, which undoubtedly propelled him into Hollywood’s fast lane as well. Finally, George Macready was perfect as Ballin Mundson. He was the stake driven into the cement floor, a quiet maniac whose own reservations haunted him. It could be said that Gilda would’ve survived with only Hayworth and Ford as cast members, but the emotional tennis game between them needed impartiality. Macready was just that as Mundson. Although he claimed unwavering love for Gilda, his personal agenda took precedence. His icy exterior was the result of his icy interior, while Johnny’s indifference was a front. These three chess pieces result in a stark melodrama that has etched itself into film history. Checkmate.
Gilda was released on DVD in 2000 by Sony Pictures. The video and audio was fully restored by UCLA’s Film and Television Archive, bringing a new sense of well-deserved clarity. The bonus features on the disc are a welcomed addition. They include: Exclusive Documentary: “Rita Hayworth: The Columbia Lady”, Photo gallery, Vintage advertising for the film and Talent files. The documentary follows Hayworth’s climb to success on Columbia’s ladder. Her less-notable roles quickly led her to major films and into the legend she’s become. Though released as a single disc, it would be nice to see this as part of a larger Rita Hayworth collection someday.
There’s no selling point needed for Gilda. It remains a staple for classic Hollywood lovers and film fanatics alike. It screams of the glamour and class that we hold in such high regard. The strength of the cast makes this an experience that could be enjoyed even if the television were muted. The value never depreciates with multiple viewings, but rather enhances our appreciation for quality in the current era of cloning stars.
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