Gilda (1946)
Gilda (1946)

Genre: Drama and Film Noir Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Release Date: April 25th, 1946 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Charles Vidor Actors: Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready, Joseph Calleia, Steven Geray, Joe Sawyer, Donald Douglas

 


 

I

n the Argentine (Argentina, nearing the end of the war), Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) struggles to make a few dollars by gambling with sailors. He makes his own luck in this trade, chiefly by using loaded dice. When Farrell is held up in an alley shortly after scurrying away with his winnings, the stoic, confident, perfectly-postured Ballin Mundson (George Macready) comes to the rescue, wielding a cane with a knife that juts from the end as if a switchblade. Their introductions are brief, yet Mundson convinces the “peasant” gambler to visit a casino in Bueons Aires.

Despite the establishment playing some suspicious blackjack, Farrell again makes his own luck with some crafty card-cutting. As it turns out, Mundson is the owner of the casino, opting to give the cheater a job rather than turning him into the police. His only rule, it would seem, is that “gambling and women do not mix.” As Johnny rises to the top, keeping an eye out for other professional swindlers, eventually running the casino when Mundson is away on business, he’s in for a surprise when the typically unsociable owner returns with a wife – Gilda (Rita Hayworth) – who has a dark past that is clearly connected to Farrell.

Hayworth’s Gilda is introduced with a swoosh of her hair – one of the most iconic of all star appearances. And she’s positively oozing seductiveness. As she trades barbs with Johnny, trying to antagonize him with her sexuality and flirtatiousness around others, the scripting reveals its wryness. Every word is carefully chosen – and their expressions convey far more than their double-meaning exchanges. “If I’d been a ranch, they’d have named me the Bar Nothing.” She’s also cleverly framed, sometimes cast in shadows or situated behind other characters, but given plenty of opportunities for well-lit close-ups to highlight her attractiveness.

“Women can be extremely annoying …” There are subplots of cartel corruption, political payoffs, trouble with the law, jealousy, fraternizing, and Gilda’s desire to destroy Johnny, aided by Johnny’s film noir voiceover narration that portends ruin, but it’s difficult to care too much about the story. Every time Hayworth is onscreen, she commands everyone’s attention (she does, after all, take over the title of the film). Even Uncle Pio (Steven Geray), an astounding supporting role who continually spouts philosophical observations about Farrell’s dilemmas, is no match for the fiery femme fatale when she wants a little attention. Her skills with manipulation are unequaled, though her games embroil dangerous people who are prone to lashing out.

The plot takes some contrived turns (and a twist involving Don Douglas as Tom Langford, which isn’t adequately milked for its inventiveness), spanning too much time, considering that the characters are originally introduced with no histories (and no subsequent elaborations), thereby numbing the significance of their former relationships – and the impact it has on the present. Late in the film, Hayworth additionally receives a few minutes to do more than one musical number, which only drags things out further. By the end, the many sins catch up to the protagonists, marking them as decidedly unheroic; the central romance becomes a slight perversion on the love stories in “Gone with the Wind” and “Wuthering Heights” and “Jezebel,” yet with a hint of redemption that isn’t the least bit believable – and a climax that nods to “Casablanca” but lacks the sensibility and sentimentality.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10