Gilda is one of the most famous film noirs from Hollywood’s Golden Age. The moment when Rita Hayworth, in her signature role as Gilda Mundson Farrell, performs “Put the blame on Mame” whilst wearing the Jean Louis crafted black strapless gown, more than epitomizes the glamour of the era.
Produced by Virginia Van Upp and written by Jo Eisinger and Marion Parsonnet (with an uncredited Ben Hecht), Gilda was released in 1946 to critical acclaim and is often quoted by film historians and critics as a major work of the genre.
The film begins with the rolling dice of lowly gambler Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford). Having just arrived in Buenos Aires, Johnny wins a lot of money by cheating at crap games. Johnny is rescued from a robbery attempt by a wealthy stranger, Ballin Mundson (George Macready), who tells him to visit an illegal casino but warns him not to practice his cheating skills there.
When he arrives at the casino, Johnny continues to cheat in a blackjack game. He is caught and brought to the owner, who happens to Mundson. Johnny persuades Mundson to hire him and he would soon become the casino manager.
After a party at the casino, Mundson leaves town and he trusts Johnny to be in charge during his absence. When Mundson returns, he invites Johnny to his house. Johnny is shocked when he is introduced to Mundson’s new bride. Her name is Gilda and it becomes clear that she was an old flame of Johnny. Unaware of their affair, Mundson instructs Johnny to protect Gilda. Both Johnny and Gilda, who are loyal to Mundson, express contempt for each other.
Johnny dutifully drags the flirty Gilda away from the dance floor as she cohorts with strangers. Johnny is worried that she will cause problems with her jealous husband, but he is jealous too. Mundson later reveals his suspicions to Gilda, that he is aware that she had known Johnny before.
Mundson tells Johnny that his primary business is running an international tungsten cartel to finance his fascist ambitions. With the police closing in, events are bound to change, but can the former lovers contain their newfound resentment of each other?
Gilda director Charles Vidor once said that the film was about “hate being as exciting an emotion as Love” and this sense of sado-masochism is felt by the equal dishes of passion and cruelty throughout the picture.
Many students have observed the homoerotic control present in the film because Johnny attempts to control Gilda whilst Ballen and his “little friend” wants to control Johnny, but director Charles Vidor and actor Glenn Ford brushed off any suggestions of homosexual desire and said that this was never mentioned during the filming.
The production code would have limited the narrative possibilities anyway and most certainly softened the climax to convey a more acceptable Hollywood ending, but this does diminish the impact of the film.
It has been mentioned that Humphrey Bogart declined the role of Johnny Farrell because with the beautiful Rita Hayworth playing Gilda, audiences would not look at anyone else. Rita Hayworth’s star quality and performance stands out in the picture, even though her singing vocals are mostly dubbed by Anita Ellis. Rita Hayworth was the top pin-up for GIs during World War II and those that waited to see her on-screen would have been delighted.
Rita Hayworth shines in the picture, but there are other memorable performances. Glenn Ford is perfectly cast as the complex Johnny Farrell. Ford had a long on-off romantic relationship with regular co-star Hayworth (who was then married to Orson Welles) that enabled some to compare him to the character of Johnny Farrell.
George Maccready’s polished villainous performance as Ballin Mundson is completely convincing. Gilda raised Maccready’s profile but he has produced many acclaimed performances throughout the years, most notably as the self-serving French World War One general Paul Mireau in Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 masterpiece Paths of Glory.
Gilda is a hugely enjoyable classic and is hugely deserving of the positive reputation it has received throughout the years. It is also graced with possibly the greatest entrance of any star in any film from any era, courtesy of Jack Cole’s staging, Doris Fisher and Allan Roberts’ songwriting, and the remarkable Rita Hayworth.