Gilda (1946) – A Review
I always thought if they use a characters name for the title of their story, then that character better be damn good. There better be something about that character that makes them compelling and awfully interesting if they think they’re deserving of their name in the title. They better be intriguing enough to want to learn more about them and want to see how their story unfolds.
And so we have Gilda, a film-noir drama that launched Rita Hayworth to superstardom playing a character that would become her most identifiable role. Her performance would leave male audiences breathless and would cement her status as one of the sexiest actresses during the golden age of cinema.
Although it’s never been one of my favorites, Gilda is half of a really good movie.
Gambling cheat Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) meets crime boss and casino owner Balin Mundson (George Macready). Farrell becomes his righthand man and there’s a mutual crooked respect that grows between them. Their partnership is disrupted by Mundson’s sudden marriage to mystery woman Gilda (Hayworth of course). Apparently Johnny knows her all too well and how her presence can become a dangerous disruption to Mundson’s business and focus.
It turns out Johnny and Gilda have a heated past, which begins to bubble through with each being unable to hide it and releasing vicious vindictiveness towards one another.
It’s a great setup with Ford and Hayworth bouncing double-entendre dialogue back and forth at one another. It’s a strong love/hate relationship that trickles out with sarcastic, smoldering dialogue. At times you don’t know if they want to hurt each other or fall into each others arms.
My sympathies always shift from Gilda to Johnny throughout the film depending on who’s the target of the mental abuse in any given scene. It’s their interactions and scenes that make the film so memorable and worth watching.
And there’s some terrific dialogue to go along with it and the actors excel at delivering it.
“Hate is an exciting emotion….haven’t you noticed?”
“Pardon me, your husband is showing.”
“There are more women in the world than anything else. Except insects.”
“If I’d been a ranch they would’ve named me the Bar Nothing.”
Johnny asking Gilda, “Doesn’t it bother you at all that you’re married?”
To which Gilda replies, “What I want to know is, does it bother you?”
Great stuff! Ford, and not surprisingly Hayworth are the reasons to watch this movie and why I think it’s considered a classic today. Hayworth has an almost unreal presence when she’s onscreen. She’s completely captivating. Whether she’s lighting her cigarette, subtly insulting Johnny, flipping her hair, slinkily dancing in her fetching wardrobe or belting out a song, there’s no surprise at why she became a star and why audiences went wild seeing her in this.
I never thought Gilda was a great movie though. There’s a bit of suspension of disbelief to go along with the plot, which I’m fine with, but in the end it doesn’t quite fully deliver on it.
One of the things that always bothered me was the second half of the movie starts to limp. The ending is one that I never felt was a satisfactory conclusion. It plays as more a rushed B-movie contrived-type of ending that doesn’t do justice to the terrific first half. I’m always left disappointed by it.
One minor observation, I always felt Gilda was more removed from being a true ‘film noir’ than how it’s usually categorized. I would describe it more as a ‘drama noir’.
There’s some beautiful cinematography and director Charles Vidor frames shots using gorgeous shadows and silhouettes that give an air of cinematic mystery to the story and leaves a real impact. You also gets the famous shot of Hayworth’s stunning hair flip entrance into the movie. It’s become one of the most indelible shots in film.
However, Hayworth isn’t as much a femme fatale as you might be led to believe. There’s also a lack of criminal activities, deception and double-crossing at its core. They are there, but it’s not in the way you would find in a crime noir. In fact, at points they feel unnecessary and don’t amount to very much.
This is more a story about these three characters and their own personal motivations and interactions. That’s the meat of it and when the most interesting things take place. They could have dropped the criminal element from the movie and had just followed these three characters around the casino allowing us to watch as jealousy and passions erupt and I would have been happier.
Aside from that I still think the film is worth seeing for Hayworth and Ford. Macready is also very good. I just love listening to his voice. He’s got such a smooth, unflappable, articulate voice it somehow oozes danger no matter what he says. I think if he were ever to try telling me a party joke I would just be unsettled by it and maybe laugh out of fear he’d kill me.
Plus, that hair flip entrance is still an applause-worthy moment.