Review by Robert T. Trate
Starring: Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready
Directed by: Charles Vidor
Running time: 110 minutes
Year of release: 1946
“Gilda, are you decent?” Rita Hayworth then tosses her hair back and says “Me?” This was my first introduction to Hayworth, but it was not in her star turning performance as Gilda. In fact, it was because that scene is featured in director Frank Darabont’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” that I first saw the actress. She pops up on screen, in a movie that is nearly completely void of women, and thus gives the story’s hero a means to escape. Since Criterion decided to release the film within the film, Gilda (spine# 795), I figured it was high time I actually watched.
Gilda is considered to be a film noir, a genre that was created due to the impact of World War 2. This is pointed out by director, Martin Scorsese, who discusses Gilda with fellow director, Baz Luhrmann, in the Blu-ray’s special features. In hindsight, I think I would have had a great appreciation of Gilda if I would have watched these two directors discuss the finer points of the film and its culture significance. More often than not, classic films can get lost in time because of their culture impact. They end up shaping the very films we see today. So when Baz Luhrmann discusses why they don’t make films like this anymore and how Hayworth’s hair style and dance numbers inspired characters from his own film, Moulin Rouge, I know that there probably won’t be too many surprises.
Glenn Ford plays Johnny Farrell, a hustler who finds himself in Argentina near the end of World War 2. He impresses a casino owner, Ballin Munson (George Macready), and the two men form a quick friendship. Johnny quickly rises through the ranks of Ballin’s organization and begins to run his casino. Out of both respect and admiration, Johnny is not out to swindle Ballin, but work with him. After the war is over, Johnny learns that Ballin’s casino is actually a front for a cartel. Johnny can deal with the police, cartel members, and even the Nazis; however, it is when Ballin introduces Johnny to his wife, Gilda (Hayworth), that everything begins to unravel.
Anyone with half a brain can see that Johnny and Gilda have a past together. Both say that they are new people and starting fresh, yet Gilda quickly falls into her old ways of playing with men at the casino. Johnny, not wishing for his friend and boss to lose the one thing he really cares about, Gilda, does his best to keep her on the straight and narrow, even with her multiple advances at him.
Despite Gilda being a “film noir” with its voiceover, heavy shadows, and femme fatale, I found the film to actually break a lot of the “noir” conventions. In many ways, it was closer to a darker version of Casablanca. Only here, there is no greater good and all our characters are villains.
A sore thumb of this film is Gilda/ Hayworth’s musical numbers. I’m all for the steamy night club with a raspy singer who teases us and drives 1940’s censors crazy. In this film however, the dance numbers seem fun and almost out of place. Outside of being the owner’s wife, why is Gilda permitted to sing and dance? Oh, because she is Rita Hayworth. That really isn’t a great story motivator.
Glenn Ford, who would go on to play a great bad guy in 3:10 to Yuma (spine #657), is passable here, but our film’s true villain, Ballin (Macready), is more likable than both Gilda and Johnny. I should be rooting for the two lovers, right? I also appreciated Ballin’s subterfuge that Christopher Nolan lifted for his Dark Knight Trilogy. A classic piece of film history was dropped on me there, but, again, that moment inspired another.
Gilda has its place in history and is a star making turn for Rita Hayworth, which earned her the title “Hollywood’s Love Goddess”. With that being said, there is a better selection of film noir out there to watch. I did enjoy watching Hayworth’s turn as the bad girl and will now look to her filmography for other films in which she appeared.
- New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- Audio commentary from 2010 by film critic Richard Schickel
- New interview with film noir historian Eddie Muller
- Piece from 2010 featuring filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann discussing their appreciation for Gilda
- PLUS: An essay by critic Sheila O’Malley
- New cover by Jessica Hische and Eric Skillman
- In his career as a writer, Robert has made Doctor Who giggle, asked Ahsoka Tano what underwear she was wearing, and spoke with a Raptor from Jurassic Park. Follow Robert on Twitter @TheMovieLord.