When I created my other site Cinehouse back in 2009, it was solely seen as a personal project which I nicknamed my ‘Cinema Education’. It was about learning there was life outside the latex superheroes and alien invaders that plague mainstream cinema. This is a door that truly opened my eyes to a wonderful world that’s taken me around the world but also back in time. Ashamedly it’s that back in time especially to when films where Black& White I’ve seemed to have ignored only until now and I’m now under her spell. Her name is Gilda.
Starring Rita Hayworth ,Gilda is my first foray into Criterion Collection and part of their first releases into the UK. A poster for the film says “There never was a woman like…Gilda!” nor like Hayworth either. She was regarded as one of Hollywood’s first ‘sex symbols’, strikingly beautiful, a femme fatale of the highest order. Oozing with charisma she lit up screens, she could dance which unlike many of the actors of today.
Gilda was an important film in many ways. It was one of the first films in ‘competition’ at then inaugural Cannes film festival (1946), it was seen by many as one of the pioneers of the sexual revolution of Hollywood films. Comparing it to a modern-day film, Gilda is tame in comparison but this was post World War 2 everything was still conservative. So even a suggestion of showing to much ‘love’, revealing too ‘shoulder’ or leg would have caused an uproar but it opened the doors for future films.
This film is a dark, twisted tale of love, empowerment, an enchanting temptress who could melt men’s hearts and entice them to her every whim. There was also suggestions Gilda‘s subtext hinted at homo-eroticism between the film’s male leads Johnny (Glenn Ford) and Ballin Mundson (George MaCready). From its dialogue, body language, imagery, and the film’s opening scene are set in the seedy surroundings of Buenos Aires Docks. If you weren’t gambling in a sleazy joint where you looking for the company an area with docked sailors? Was Ballin looking for male company? We maybe nowadays be more opened to our sexuality, right up to recently including 1940’s it was still very taboo. Even to portray anyone regarded as ‘queer’ would have killed careers. Thanks to the power of ‘slight suggestion’ that sexual prevision that Hays Code that film abide too was able to let this film the freedom to express themselves.
So what’s Gilda all about?
Set in the backdrop of Post World War 2 Buenos Aires Argentina. We meet Johnny Farrell (Ford) a young small-time gambler who wins big at a back street gambling joint. He is saved from been mugged by an older man Ballin Mundson (Macready). When Johnny makes his own ‘luck’ again in an upscale Casino he is brought to the manager’s office to meet the casino owner…Ballin Mundson.
After a bit of sweet talking Ballin makes Johnny the casino manager, the pair hit off so well Ballin introduces Johnny to his wife…Gilda (Hayworth), Johnny’s former lover. After a while, Ballin starts to realise Johnny and Gilda may have had a history between them and keeps a close eye on both them. But as he tries to control both secrets of Ballin’s past come knocking on his door to collect their ‘debt’.
Gilda gave birth to a star, Rita Hayworth. Whilst it wasn’t her first film many seen this film as her breakout performance. She pushed the boundaries of her sexual prowess , from her iconic hair flip to her hypnotic musical number ‘Put The Blame On Mame‘ (actually sung by Anita Harris). It unearthed her vulnerabilities but still oozes with vampish sexual tension (including her striptease). She was “the girl every man wanted to possess and every woman wanted to be“.
You could say the song also revealed Johnny’s anxieties that he struggled to have or even handle a woman like Gilda. Like how Ballin tried to control Johnny he did likewise with Gilda, it was a love/hate relationship between both of them one that hinted that was abusive. This may have been a ‘golden era’ for film, sadly, in reality, it was an era many men would hit women. Johnny was a brooding sadist, you could say us the viewer where sadomasochists, loving every minute the pair embrace their passion. Equally when they humiliated each other too.
Gilda was a gloriously brilliant dark tale that explored the emotional complexities and disenchantment of young love. Evocative, electric, cynical repressed sexually, it was a different era. This may not have been Rita Hayworth‘s first film but in the eyes of many, it was her one and only film, leaving us all spellbound, forever more.
[rating=5] | Paul Devine
Film-Noir, Drama |USA, 1946 | 12 | Criterion Collection| 27th June 2016 (UK) | Dir.Charles Vidor | Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready, Joe Sawyer, Gerald Mohr, |Buy:[Criterion Collection] [Blu-ray]
Technical Details |[rating=4]
Gilda is presented in the 1.33:1 (full screen) format which some may find unusual for a film of its time. According to the notes, this was the film’s original ration taken directly from the original negative. It’s an overall 2K archive restoration (The UCLA Film And TV Archive), with widescreen Televisions presenting the film in the pillar box presentation. The audio quality is strong that’s backed by crisp picture quality, with only a few blemishes that don’t detract the overall excellent restoration.
Film Extras | [rating=4]
The one reason we got overly excited about Criterion Collection coming to the UK for the first time was the reputation of its extras, the supplements. Even though the Criterion releases here are Sony Pictures present Criterion Collection they will replicate the same extras as the American release. From the cover, we have a reversible film poster which flips to give an essay on the film from critic Sheila O’Malley. There is also an interview with Fim Noir historian Eddie Muller with critic Richard Schickel providing a fantastic audio commentary too.The personal favorites are the piece which has Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann sharing their thoughts on Gilda and how it influenced film. The best and funniest is the old episode from TV Show ‘Hollywood And The Stars’ whose episode called ‘The Odyssey Of Rita Hayworth’ provides some interesting facts on the actress with a narrator with a dated funny accent.