Director: Charles Vidor
Cast: Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready
Plot: A smart-talking gambler (Ford) gets a job working as security for a casino. It seems like the job of a lifetime, until the owner gets married to the troublesome Gilda (Hayworth).
There is something strangely hypnotic about the early Noir classics. It is interesting to me to see the purest examples of the genre and compare them with the neo-Noir movement. Which cliches made it to the 21st century and how do the copycat pictures like Chinatown and Sin City view the genre? While the black and white shadowy cinematography and husky narration from the leading man are pulled right from textbook Noir, the trends run deeper than that. Glenn Ford is introduced to us as an outsider, the guy who prides himself on a lack of a past and an abundance of future. He is clearly a low-life, the first shot seeing him swindling money off of some sailors, as he hitrs Buenos Aires, no clear plan in mind. However, despite his street thug ways, there is something undeniably likeable about the guy. Gilda’s strongest Noir vibe comes from the razor sharp dialogue, which is the kind of witty banter that would have made the Noir writers like Chandler salute with respect. Not a heartbeat is lost when it comes to comebacks and the hateful double-entendres are delivered with such a straight face, you might not realise the insult being thrown until a third watch. Ford ends up falling on his feet, when an unusual yet sophisticated man, George Macready’s straight-faced gentleman, saves his life from a mugging and introduces him to the casinos of Buenos Aires. Ford continues his conman ways for a moment, but rather than end up frustrating Macready into killing him, he talks his way into a job. Like most of the classic Noir heroes, it was never about their skills with a gun or hulking Sin City muscles. Noir heroes had nothing to rely on but their silver tongues. Before long, Glenn Ford is miles away from his backstreet gambling origins and swaggering around a casino, in smart clothes. He has everything he wants: money, power and a strong friendship with a powerful business owner. And then Gilda enters his life…
Ah, Gilda. She is the titular character, and the main thing people talk about when it comes to this film, for good reason. Right from the first shot, where Rita Hayworth explodes onto screen, all glamour and wit, we have the iconic femme fatale, the most prominent of Noir cliches to filter down to the 21st century. She will have you reeling long after the credits roll, right from her first sharp quip. She is even sharper than Glenn Ford’s character, proving that whatever men can do women are usually determined to do better. The character of Gilda is a showswoman, a good-time girl determined to see life as her playground. The scenes cemented into pop culture history are all down to her playful sexuality, especially the strip tease to the song, Blame It On The Mame, which is surprisingly absent of nudity or smuttiness, but high on personality. Hayworth is the perfect actress, able to get the men’s heart beating without having to objectify herself too much. This is vitally important for the character, because this is a story about how women can be added to any situation to make them unpredictable. The moral of this story is that men can plan for anything, but the emotions that come with women. As Macready and Ford take on gangsters and assassination attempts with little more than an exasperated sigh, it is amusing to watch the pair of them reduced to dumb-founded buffoons at Gilda’s expense. She is a cruel vixen, playing with Ford’s emotions the second her husband introduces her to him. Her actions could be argued to come from nothing more than a petty desire to torment the men in her lives. Feminists will either love the fact that men are reduced to fools at the sight of this strong female or will be enraged at the message that nothing good can ever come from women. The real answer lies somewhere in the middle, director Vidor focusing on how lust and anger can be powerfully disruptive agents. By the end of the film, there are no winners, Ford and Hayworth trapped in a destructive game of one-upmanship. The final twenty minutes continue the theme of playful torture between man and woman, but at this phase of the narrative, no one is enjoying it, merely trapped in a rhythm out of a twisted sense of misplaced duty. Vidor argues that lust can turn man, and quite possibly women, depending on your reading of Gilda’s character, into monsters of their former self. Modern audiences will likely frown at one scene where Gilda pushes Ford into giving her a strong slap to the face, but we could also argue that it is simply a physical sign that Ford is losing hold of his own identity. The ending is a little messy, partially ruining the well-choreographed story that came before, but the message is strong enough to remain firm. Lust is a very tricky beast.
Final Verdict: Classic for a reason, the ultimate femme fatale story, especially thanks to a dazzling performance from Rita Hayworth.