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Rita Hayworth once blamed Gilda (1946) for ruining her love life. "Every man I've known has fallen in love with Gilda and awakened with me," she once lamented. But this dark and twisted love story also made Hayworth into one of the cinema's most unforgettable and enduring sex goddesses.
Glenn Ford stars alongside Hayworth in Charles Vidor's erotic drama as a luckless gambler rolling dice on the Argentinean waterfront who accepts a job proposition from an elegantly dressed, mysterious Buenos Aires casino owner, Ballin Mundson (George Macready). Johnny (Ford) quickly becomes Mundson's indispensable right-hand man. But their intimate trust is soon shattered in the form of a beautiful woman from Johnny's past, Gilda (Hayworth). Gilda has married Mundson after a one-day courtship and now it is Johnny's duty to keep tabs on the straying newlywed. Gilda tortures former-flame Johnny by flirting with a string of available men. Hayworth plays the role of the jaded temptress to the hilt, even vamping at one point, "if I'd been a ranch, they would have called me the Bar Nothin'!" It was that often racy, sordid aspect of the film expressed in dialogue and Gilda's sexually provocative demeanor that caused a Variety critic of the time to note Gilda's "intriguing, low-down quality."
Marked by the distinctive cynical viewpoint and shadowy ambiance of film noir, Gilda could be described as a "hate story." By focusing on the polluted, venomous relationship between Gilda and Johnny, Vidor gives the film its slightly perverse - some have said sadomasochistic - feel. Ford showed remarkable insight into the film's racy themes when he pronounced "the picture was about hate being as exciting an emotion as love." Johnny and Gilda seem to delight in hurting and humiliating each other, making this one of the oddest film romances ever made. In reality, Ford and Hayworth were great friends and even lived next door to each other for a time in Hollywood. Gilda was Ford and Hayworth's second pairing after The Lady in Question (1940), which some said began Ford's screen infatuation with Hayworth. Ford admitted to having an affair with Hayworth though he was a man of discretion and never gave details about his involvement with the luscious movie star in his autobiography. The pair would later go on to star together in The Loves of Carmen (1948), Affair in Trinidad (1952) and The Money Trap (1966).
With her vampish evening gowns and unforgettably sexy striptease to "Put the Blame on Mame" (sung not by Hayworth, but by Anita Ellis), Gilda is most remembered as Hayworth's picture. Though Hayworth removed only one long, black glove during the "Mame" number, her insinuating sultriness is still capable of generating erotic heat, and makes it seem like she shucked the whole outfit.
But Ford's performance is equally memorable for the actor's sudden, dramatic shift from happy-go-lucky roue to simmering sadist. That degree of intensity and world-weariness was perhaps intensified by the actor's recent return from a stint in the Marines during World War II. It was, after all, the pessimism and sense of ennui created during that war that helped nurture film noir as an expression of national despair.
Producer: Virginia Van Upp
Director: Charles Vidor
Screenplay: Marion Parsonnet, based on Jo Eisinger's adaptation of E.A. Ellington's original story
Cinematography: Rudolph Mate
Film Editing: Charles Nelson
Art Direction: Stephen Goosson, Van Nest Polglase
Music: Doris Fisher and Allan Roberts
Cast: Rita Hayworth (Gilda), Glenn Ford (Johnny Farrell), George Macready (Ballin Mundson), Joseph Calleia (Obregon), Steven Geray (Uncle Pio), Gerald Mohr (Captain Delgado), Joe Sawyer (Casey).
by Felicia Feaster