Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 1, 2017


Rita Hayworth
GILDA (1946). Director: Charles Vidor.

"Hate can be an exciting emotion. Very exciting. Hate is the only thing that can ever warm me." -- Ballin Mundson.

"If I'd been a ranch, they'd have named me the bar nothing." -- Gilda.

Down Argentine way just at the end of WW2, a hustler and crooked gambler named Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) is nearly robbed when a stranger on the docks with a spear in his cane comes to his rescue. The stranger is casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready), who hires Johnny to look after his interests. Some time later Ballin introduces Johnny to his beautiful wife, Gilda (Rita Hayworth), and both feign ignorance of the fact that they were once involved. Johnny and Gilda have a real love-hate relationship to add to the stew, and Ballin has a consortium with a bunch of Germans to add to the confusion. After a man is murdered in the casino, Ballin seems to commit suicide in his plane ... What to make of the modestly entertaining and often silly Gilda? Artificial and Hollywoodish as all get-out, with one-dimensional characters and one of the shortest climaxes in the history of the movies, Gilda has a few interesting twists and turns and is distinguished by the sex appeal and fine, constantly insinuating performance of Rita Hayworth, who makes the most of a standard role of the good-bad girl who is kept by wealthy men while loving the poor fellow she truly adores. Ford is not bad, if miscast, as the grubby borderline lowlife who winds up a kind of bodyguard/ersatz gunsel to Ballin (the narration he's given is unnecessary). Macready gives a good performance -- probably the longest and most famous of his career -- although some of his line readings are a little too matter-of-fact; one can think of other actors who might have played it in a somewhat more colorful and poetically sinister fashion. Steven Geray, Gerald Mohr, and Joseph Calleia all score as, respectively, a lowly casino employee who knows where the bodies are buried; a slimy guy with a hankering for Rita; and the police inspector who is concerned with the doings of the German consortium (even if no one in the audience is).

Some people* have had a different reading on Gilda, claiming that Johnny Farrell is a literal hustler on the bisexual side, Ballin's boyfriend, in fact, and that Johnny's self-hatred forced him to walk away from Hayworth before the story begins. This theory has it that Ballin needs to have power over attractive people of both sexes (one is reminded of Clifton Webb's character in Laura). Unfortunately, this take on the film makes it seem like a bad, regressive gay novel of the forties -- the tormented "queer" pulls away from the guy he's with and walks off into the sunset with a woman -- and while some advocates of this theory can point out certain lines and situations in scene after scene (and they may even have a point), they forget that many, many movies featured bad (and good) guys with live-in bodyguards and buddies, and this was never necessarily considered homoerotic. The proponents of this theory would have a lot to make of the Gilda imitation, Forbidden and many others as well.

Rudolph Mate has contributed some fine cinematography, but you would never know that the story takes place in Buenos Aires, as it has little Argentinian atmosphere. Gilda might be considered film noir except for the fact that its crime aspects are comparatively minimal. The pseudo-clever dialogue is often amusing.

* such as film noir specialist Eddie Muller on the Gilda DVD.

Verdict: Anyway, it's fun watching Hayworth do her "Put the Blame On Mame" number. **1/2.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - I love this film far more than you me it's the quintessential noir, and seethes with unbridled lust, hate and emotion. But yes, it is definitely very overwrought and you have to get past the outlandish plot.

I agree with the historian who posits a bisexual triangle with Macready, Ford and Hayworth. In my mind ther eis just as much hubba hubba between Ballin Munson and Johnny Farrell as between Farrell and Gilda!

Thanks for covering one of my favorites in your prolific blog!!

William said...

My pleasure! I guess it's just that I have trouble seeing Glenn Ford in bed (or whatever) with George Macready, LOL! I just don't see any attraction or sexual tension between the two men, anymore than in similar movies, and I don't know if that is at all what Vidor or the screenwriter intended. But who knows?

However, my late partner also loved the movie and agreed with the homoerotic slant. I remember we had a mild argument about it, ha!

Anyway, I thought you might have written about "Gilda" on your blog so I checked it out this afternoon, and you did a terrific job as usual!