Director: Charles Vidor
Screenplay: Marion Parsonnet, Jo Eisinger
Based on a Story by: E. A. Ellington
Starring: Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready, Joseph Calleia, Steven Geray
Running Time: 110 min
BBFC Certificate: 12
Johnny Farrell (Ford) is a small time hustler and card shark, saved from a potentially nasty end by illegal casino owner Ballin Mundson (Macready), and employed as an enforcer and eventual floor manager after gaining Ballin’s trust. All that might count for nought however, when Ballin returns from a trip with a new wife on his arm, the flirtatious and ravishing Gilda (Hayworth), who Johnny seems to recognise from his past.
Growing up, Gilda was a film I was aware of, and had seen one very brief clip many, many times, but never the rest of the film. Morgan Freeman’s Red from The Shawshank Redemption loves it when Rita Hayworth does that sh*t with her hair, and having now seen the rest of the film too, I can completely understand why he insisted Andy Dufresne wait until after her introduction to request Hayworth from his friend. Going by Gilda alone, it seems impossible for Hayworth to be anything other than stunningly beautiful, and the notoriety of her entrance is thoroughly deserved, as Johnny hears her singing as Ballin escorts him to her room, calls out “Gilda, are you decent?”, which is followed by a wave of hair flung back, a raised eyebrow and the coquettishly delivered “Me?” It’s the perfect introduction to this character’s sexuality and presence.
After her arrival, Gilda becomes the linchpin within a decidedly unusual romantic triangle between herself and the two men. It is very clear that Johnny and Gilda are having difficulty processing how they feel about one another, which is exacerbated by their intense need to get one over on the other at every opportunity. Johnny is tasked with taking care of everything that belongs to Ballin, a list which apparently includes Gilda, but Johnny’s definition of “taking care of” probably differs somewhat from what Ballin had in mind. Johnny doesn’t take advantage of the situation for his own gain, instead he allows Gilda to see other men as frivolously as she wishes, and he’ll always be there with a ride home and a cover story, thereby keeping her safe even from her husband’s jealous wrath. This bizarre relationship between Johnny and Gilda does grate after a while, with their constant back and forth, will-they-won’t-they-and-if-so-what confusion, with every conversation steeped in double meanings and peppered with the odd double entendre too. There’s altogether too much deception and going round in circles, with unclear motives and a feeling that pretty much everything everyone is saying is probably untrue to a certain degree. Add to this a secondary story involving Ballin’s other underhand business involving a monopoly on tungsten and it’s not unfamiliar for things to be as clear as Gilda’s black velvet gloves.
Speaking of which, whilst all of Hayworth’s costumes are divine, I could have done with fewer musical numbers. I’m not saying they weren’t entertaining, with Hayworth’s voice dubbed by Anita Ellis for two of them, but they ground the pacing of the plot down to a standstill, and only the final rendition of Put The Blame on Mame had anything to further the plot. By all means touch on them if the character is supposedly a performer, but I didn’t need three whole performances shown in their entirety.
Yet despite these issues, I still had a great time with Gilda. The plot kept me guessing, assisted by the perpetual switching of the protagonist and antagonist, I enjoyed Ford’s cock-sure narration, the dialogue is often wonderful and the performers are all well cast in their roles. Macready in particular seems to relish his more villainous and stoic turn, and even the supporting characters made a lasting impression, most notably Steven Geray as the cheeky bathroom attendant Uncle Pio. Plus a great deal of imagery is well used, be it the ominous closing of shutters or Ballin’s cane holding a knife blade – shown so often it’s presence in the climax cannot come as a surprise. Echoes of Casablanca were felt throughout, but what can you expect from a love triangle in a foreign, war-affected casino, and there are far worse films from which to take influence.
Gilda is available now on Blu-Ray and DVD as part of the Criterion Collection. The brand new 2K digital restoration is accompanied by an audio commentary from film critic Richard Schickel, an interview with film noir historian Eddie Muller, a 2000 featurette entitled Rita Hayworth: The Columbia Lady, discussing her career as an actor and dancer, an appreciation for the film featuring directors such as Baz Luhrmann and Martin Scorsese, and an essay from critic Sheila O’Malley.