Gilda (1946)

Gilda (1946) is a classic film noir love triangle murder mystery directed by Charles Vidor, which in many ways represents the fantastical apogee of the noir style with its romantic mystery, intense and strange relationships, and its obsessive characters, unsure of themselves in the mazes of deceit, crime and love in which they find themselves.

Gilda is less of a love story than many a similar film noir from the era, and in fact its characters often talks of hate. 

The star of the film is the gloriously cinematic Rita Hayworth in the title role, perhaps one of her best ever roles, and certainly one in which she seems to powerfully upstage and out-perform everyone around her.

Despite this sense of power, Gilda herself is a powerless character. As the centre of attention and the focus of so many people's intense desires, Gilda seems to be a prisoner of one kind or another for the entire picture.

Steven Geray lights up Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946)

Here with the world at her feet, Gilda remains a victim, and worse than that the victim of two impotent men, neither of whom seem able to express kindness or care for her. In this manner, Gilda (1946) is something of a love triangle, although it is really surprising how many men, as well as her two husbands, that she manages to date throughout the picture.

. . . on your knees in Gilda (1946)

The surprising takeaway from this may be the overall sense that to be this attractive and free-spirited a woman in 1946, was something of a prison in itself. The complexity which surrounds her has never full been explained away by viewers, commenters and critics. The sense that stands intact at the close of the picture is that as a force of nature and as a one-of-a-kind person of rare talent and beauty, Gilda is going to remain a prisoner of a world that does not love her for herself, but rather hates her for her exceptionalism.

Glenn Ford in Gilda (1946)

Certainly, Gilda is a prisoner in her marriage to the casino-owning industrialist Ballin Mundson (George Macready), but the other man in her life, Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) is if anything the prison guard. This means that even though they may be rivals for Gilda's attention, they both at least agree on the need to imprison her for no good reason. And this is what happens.

This theme is demonstrated without let-up throughout the film Gilda (1946) and as the action enters the last act, Glenn Ford's classic classy film noir narration delivered in voiceover calmly explains that the whole of Buenos Aires is now her prison, a shocking idea given that he himself has made it so. In this sequence, Ford's character Johnny explains that no matter what she tries to do, she cannot get away. And Gilda is shown dating a couple of men, both of whom are mugged and thugged away into the night, leaving her with no option but to return to the loveless marital home.

Rita Hayworth

What is obvious about this imprisoning of Gilda is that she is innocent of any guilt or even complicity in her treatment. Gilda is not a femme fatale whose morals might indicate that she be better off punished. Gilda doesn't seduce nor hurt anybody, and nor does she trick anybody into any wicked murder or other scheme.

Gilda's first husband in the picture, Ballin (played by George Macready) is a super-cold and violent businessman, who clearly has Nazi connections, although this is not exactly specified, even though evil Germans in Brazil in 1946, could mean little else. Ballin is not just super-cold but it's also suggested that he is a sadist, given that his weaponised cane is never far and of course, how he describes it as 'his friend'.

the little friend in Gilda (1946)

The cane in fact suggests perhaps more than just sadism, but perhaps also some homoerotic feelings and habits, as we find him more attached to this cane than he is perhaps to Gilda.

Night blues - - Rita Hayworth, Stephen Geray and Glenn Ford in Gilda (1946)

It'll be worth nothing that Charles Vidor seems to have made no other incursions into the film noir canon than Gilda (1946) as a director who specialised more perhaps in musicals and romances, and so despite Gilda (1946) finding status as a classic film noir, it's interesting that this picture might not have been conceived in that mould entirely. Similarly, Gilda does contain a voiceover that seems to be perhaps a little out of place, certainly in its use in comparison to that of many similar motion pictures in the style.

Lousy husband noir in Gilda (1946)

The voiceover in fact does not seem to add any of the many possible film noir moods and techniques that it might normally do. This is not a tale told from a particular remove, and does not appear to be in a past scenario framed by the telling, or even be a story told by an unreliable narrator, as many voiceovers in film noir do. The telling is fairly straight, in fact, and that voiceover does not seem to add anything that might otherwise be there.

George Macready in Gilda (1946)

What kind of a femme fatale is this? Not much of one, when in fact the lousy husband should be the real signifier on the movie poster and on the lobby cards. Jealousy and lack of passion, control and frigidity, impotence and cruelty - - the hallmarks of the lousy husband and also the lover to a degree, in Gilda (1946)

Gilda herself is not a regular film noir femme fatale. She doesn't entrap or scheme, she is not out for murder, and not much for riches either. In fact Gilda is more of an adventurer, if anything.

Dice gambler Johnny is ridiculously loyal to his crook of a boss, but that is men for you. Loyalty innit. Struggling between his loyalty to Ballin and his hatred for Gilda, Johnny conflicted, until he kisses Gilda and this is witnessed by Ballin who flees, only to seemingly plummet to his death in an exploding airplane. 

Saddened by his friend's demise, Johnny begins controlling Gilda's goings even more rigorously than her previous lousy husband did, while the local authorities question him about details of certain cartel plans which Ballin has presumably been involved with.

The hair flip? Not only does it fail to mark Gilda as a femme fatale, but it only happens once, and despite repeating across time and space -- this is a one off moment. Gilda does not operate her zippers - - men do. But this is about as scheming as it gets. In fact, if anything Gilda is lonely, surrounded by these possessive cold and salivating suckers of guys.

Stephen Geray and Glenn Ford in Gilda (1946)

Johnny and Ballin becomes friends in the first place because they are quite similar in both being men with few moral qualms, who turn out to be lousy adventurers, and like to "make their own luck", which means they are professional cheats.

All of Gilda's dance scenes makes a pretty heavy point out of showing off her legs but this does not make her a femme fatale. 

Meanwhile, and for intrigue, and because this is immediate post-war Argentina, a group of Germans who are none too thrilled at losing the Big War have formed a tungsten cartel, with Ballin as their frontman.

Germans (1946)

In watching Gilda (1946) we see love in a mess. There is nothing wrong with Gilda in fact, other than the obvious - - that she is tremendously good looking. The entire plot of the film around her focuses on the psychological, emotional and physical abuse she and her love Glenn Ford and her husband inflict on one another.

This gets increasingly nasty and violent and bizarre, to the point where both of them are practically mentally unhinged by the end of the film. The morality that can be picked out from this is that attractive women are simply dangerous, to society and themselves. The beauty is in and of itself a destructive force, first in terms of the danger it attracts, and everybody's inability to move or think around it. Abuse is the result. And Rita Hayworth ends up being called a femme fatale, not because of her murderous or scheming actions  - - but because of her beauty. That beauty is both the sin and the danger, and the crime where there is none.

GILDA (1946) on Wikipedia

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