GILDA

Director Charles Vidor
Year 1946
Starring Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready
Run Time 110min
More Info IMDb

This screening is part of our November celebration of Tough Ladies in Cinema!

Rita Hayworth’s Gilda is the most fascinating of classic Hollywood’s femme fatales. In the film she is the ultimate bad girl, drawing men into her web with the promise of sex and the reality of death. Hayworth gives the role of the jaded temptress everything she's got and in the process creates her own legend. It's a masterpiece of film noir and one of the most racy and sordid movies of its time.

Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) is a hardbitten American expatriate using loaded dice at a Buenos Aires casino. He gets jumped in an alley out back after the game and is about to be cleaned out when he's saved by Ballin Mundson (George Macready), owner of the casino, and given a job as Mundson's right hand man so he can repay his debts. The two quickly develop a close relationship, with a surprising gay subtext given the fact this movie was made in 1940's Hollywood under the repressive Production Code.

It isn't until Mundson returns from a business trip with a sexy young bride that things go to hell. What Mundson doesn't know is that Johnny and his new bride Gilda were once lovers and things betweem them are still heated. Johnny acts like he hates her, but that's just the way you harbor your secret love in a movie like this. And Mundson is not only the possessive type, he's a powerful tyrant who also happens to be in league with some Nazis.

The biggest pleasure of the movie comes from watching Gilda's manipulation of both of these men who view her as a sex object. The most famous sequence in the movie is a timeless musical number where Hayworth vamps her way through a knockout nightclub performance of 'Put the Blame on Mame' in a slinky black strapless dress. The clip is pretty iconic on its own, but when you see it in its full context it becomes even more compelling (and problematic). Gilda is getting revenge against her men by turning herself into an erotic spectacle. It's a gesture of defiance built out of her own vulnerability. She gets her kicks by taunting Johnny and acting like a loose woman by running after other men, but she only does it because she loves him so much!

What with its setting in an exotic nightclub and a crooked casino, its plot about the sudden reappearance of a beautiful woman from the leading man's past, and its inclusion of a Nazi menace, it's easy to compare GILDA to CASABLANCA, but this movie is like the twisted evil twin to the Bogart and Bergman classic. Loaded with escalating erotic tension and intense undercurrents of repression and hostility, GILDA's shadowy corners are so much deeper and darker than CASABLANCA's. Secrets fester and itch and an irrational streak of unbridled hysteria runs through the whole thing. And it's all radiation out through Rita Hayworth's breathtaking performance. 

Her style and mannerisms have been copied so many times that's easy to forget it all began with her. No one looked or acted this way on screen before Hayworth. There's her famous introductory shot where she pops up into the frame, throws her hair back and purrs "Hello boys". There's the parade of astonishing gowns and glamorous fashions that she wears. There's her brilliant, undyed red hair that's always lit from behind to make it really shine. There's the way she uses that hair as a central tool of her performance, using it to project a whole range of feeling. There's the breathy voice and batted eyelids that communicate everything the script isn't allowed to. And there's the iconic poster with the tagline that sums it all up. "There NEVER was a woman like Gilda".

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