Friday, 19 August 2011

Gilda (1946)

How to start talking about “Gilda” without mentioning Rita Hayworth? Is it possible? I considered it for a moment and quickly gave up. Actors and actress that achieve legend status often they get there with a unique part or a unique moment. For Rita Hayworth, it was “Gilda”. Watch the film and try to take your eyes from her, I dare you. She’s mesmerising – even if the part, the script and her own acting ability leave a lot to be desired.

In Buenos Aires, Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), a gambler, forges a friendship with the owner of a casino (Ballin Mundson, played by George Macready) and becomes his right hand man (and possibly more, but let’s go there in a moment). One day, after a business trip, Macready returns suddenly married (i.e. Hays code for a new mistress) to Gilda (Hayworth), a woman from Johnny’s past.

Up to the moment Hayworth makes her unforgettable entrance (known to most people these days as the old film clip in “The Shawshank Redemption”), the two men’s relationship exudes homoeroticism – their initial encounter is staged as a pick-up with, if memory doesn’t betray me, Ford lighting Macready’s cigarette (it could be the other way around). Later on, Gilda reinforces this by saying that Johnny is pretty (I don't think that's meant as a simple compliment). But after she walks in, the balance of the relationships is changed. Ballin is now obsessed with Gilda. And Gilda, it turns out, is still in love with Johnny despite what happened in the past and is dying to get him into her bed (she claims the marriage was done on rebound from him). Johnny on the other hand keeps obsessing about Ballin, shielding him from the truth about his wife (she seems to be very fond of the opposite sex) and showing an ingrained misogyny which is shown full blast against her. Jealousy does come to mind.

Until the last ten minutes this surreal, convoluted but rather engaging story works thanks mostly to Hayworth and Ford. However, in the last ten minutes the Hays code kicks in. I remembered the general ending from years ago, but I was rather surprised how little it resembles the rest of the film. Suddenly all is resolved (and quickly), as if touched by a magic wand (And spoiler alert now…): Rita has always been pure (yes, really…); Glenn was never really a misogynist and just loved her; the villain is punished and there is a general happy ending, including a return to home (the US). Yeah, it’s really that bad. More interesting is the fact that throughout the film, the voice over (Johnny's), narrating after the fact, does not seem to be aware how the story will end, and shows the desdain he feels for the woman he ends with. I don’t really object to the happy ending per se, but rather how it unfolds. It is rushed, leaving me feeling it was last minute affair to finish something no one really knew how to end. More important, we never know what happened between the two leads, so why are we asked to believe that they will work over it?

Hayworth aside, the film’s other mesmerising features are Rudolph Mate’s unforgettable cinematography, full of shades and contrasts, unique framings and clearly one of the key moments of film noir imagery; and the iconic strip-tease scene when Hayworth sings (dubbed, I think) and dances to the sound of “Put the blame on Mame”.

PS - I don't particularly like the original poster, so I chose these. However, it's worth noting the mistake in the last one - the film is attributed to King Vidor, rather than Charles Vidor... someone needed to pay a bit more attention.

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