Saturday, January 16, 2021

Movie Reviews: Gilda

Gilda
directed by Charles Vidor
This film noir really put the actress Rita Hayworth on the map in terms of exciting sex appeal though by modern sensibilities visually the movie is at worst PG-13. Still, regardless of the times, people are always going to respond to swivel hipped women in high slit sleek evening gowns singing somewhat risque songs. So there is that if you are looking for it. In many aspects this film was a Casablanca knockoff.
There's the not so femme fatale, a nightclub operator with a hidden conscience/soft side, and threats from bossy Germans. There is also some subtext which probably wouldn't have been too far out of place in many modern films. But in modern film it wouldn't have been subtext at all. I was a little surprised to see it. More on that in a minute.
Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) is a devil may care American gambler and hustler. You can take that second description any way you like. Johnny has made his way down to Buenos Aires, where after having won a lot of money cheating at craps, he is rescued from a mugging and beatdown by an older gentleman. This older fellow scares off Johnny's attackers by brandishing his (ahem) walking stick outfitted with a hidden sword. The man admires Johnny's gambling skills and tells him about the best casino in town. But the man advises Johnny not to cheat there.
No one tells Johnny Farrell what to do. Johnny visits the casino and wins a lot of money at blackjack by, of course, cheating. Well the dealers didn't just fall off a turnip truck yesterday. It doesn't help that Johnny is too arrogant and greedy to spread his wins out over the night. No, he hits 21 three hands in a row. Two large and rather unpleasant security personnel haul Johnny off to see the casino owner, giving him a few slaps and punches along the way for good measure.
It turns out the casino owner is the nattily attired, verbally precise, and somewhat effeminate man who rescued Johnny the other night. His name is Ballin Mundson (George Macready). Through charm and demonstrated smarts, Johnny convinces Ballin to take him on as his right hand man. Ballin and Johnny swear on Ballin's walking stick that they won't betray each other. No money or woman will ever come between them. It will just be the three of them, Johnny, Ballin, and (snicker) Ballin's stick. Ballin likes his stick. He likes showing it to Johnny.
Yeah. Okay then... 
Anyhow problems arise when soon afterwards Ballin announces that he is married to a glamorous woman he just met a few days before, Gilda (Rita Hayworth). Now there are some people who never had any romantic problems, met their soulmate in high school, married them and had a happy marriage until their death sixty years later. 
Gilda and Johnny aren't those kind of people. Although Gilda and Johnny both initially pretend not to know each other, the reality is that each of them thinks that, per some classic blues lyrics, if they never saw each other again it would be too g*ddamn soon! There is some history here. Bad history.
It soon becomes obvious to everyone in the casino that (1) Johnny and Gilda once had a thang and that (2) there is a thin line between love and hate. Is Gilda just a golddigger? She starts behaving in a way calculated to make someone jealous. Is Johnny jealous of Gilda? Or are his emotions more complex? Why did Ballin marry Gilda in the first place? As you can see there are some things going on at different levels. 
Gilda has some subplots about police, nefarious German industrialists, and avuncular casino workers who see too much, but this is really Hayworth's and Ford's movie. It's about their characters and the eternal dance of life between men and women. If the movie has a weakness it's that it doesn't really have a compelling bad guy. Macready looks sinister as hell but bad guy here? Meh. 
Hayworth plays Gilda as self-assured (one of her lines is "If I were a ranch they'd name me the bar nothing" while another is "Hate is a very exciting emotion. Hadn't you noticed? I hate you too Johnny. I hate you so much I think I'm going to die from it.") and sweetly vulnerable at the same time. 
Gilda has the then current retrograde ideas about domestic violence. The film doesn't necessarily celebrate Johnny's coldness and occasional emotional cruelty but neither does it condemn them. Life imitated art in this movie as Ford and Hayworth allegedly began a long running affair while shooting Gilda.
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