Director: Charles Vidor
Production: Columbia; black and white; running time: 109 minutes; length: 9,852 feet. Released March 1946.
Producer: Virginia Van Upp; screenplay: Marion Parsonnet, from Jo Eisinger's adaptation of the story by E. A. Ellington; photography: Rudolph Maté; editor: Charles Nelson; sound recordist: Lambert Day; art directors: Stephen Goosson and Van Nest Polglase; set decoration: Robert Priestley; gowns: Jean Louis; musical director: Morris Stoloff; arranger: Marlin Skiles.
Cast: Rita Hayworth (Gilda); Glenn Ford (Johnny Farrell); George Macready (Ballin Mundsen); Joseph Calleia (Obregon); Steven Geray (Uncle Pio); Joseph Sawyer (Casey); Gerald Mohr (Captain Delgado); Robert Scott (Gabe Evans); Ludwig Donath (German); Don Douglas (Thomas Langford); S. Z. Martel (Little man); George Lewis (Huerta); Rosa Rey (Maria); Eduardo Ciannelli (Bendolin).
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"Statistics show there are more women in the world than anything else," snaps the cynical hero, Johnny Farrell (Ford), adding, with peculiar loathing, "except insects!" And yet this misogyny co-exists in the film with Gilda (Hayworth), a character who is at once a total blank and a masterful ironist whose signature tune "Put the Blame on Mame," to which she performs a supremely erotic striptease involving only the removal of her elbow-length velvet gloves, is a pointed exposure of the way women are made to seem responsible for the havoc wreaked by the men who become obsessed with them.
Gilda exists at the crossroads between the hardboiled neo-noir adventure of the 1940s and the contemporary craze for "women's pictures." The former genre, epitomized in classic style by Casablanca and To Have and Have Not but perhaps better represented by such fringe-B quickies as Calcutta, Macao or World for Ransom, is characterized by a studio-bound "exotic" location, preferably centering on a shady nightclub in a Third World country under whose propellor fans can be found an array of slimy, threatening characters, almost always including a slinky femme fatale, who are pitted against a hardboiled American he-man hero who emerges, emotionally bruised but morally untainted, from the twisted plot. The latter, typified by the various vehicles found for strong female stars like Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck, deal with the romantic, social and professional struggles of independent women who usually win through, after plentiful suffering, at the end. Both genres came to prominence at a time when, thanks to the war, cinema audiences really could be sexually polarised, and so the macho adventurers could apeal to the man in the services while the determined and enterprising women were aimed at the sweethearts and fiancées left to their own devices on the home front.
Released just after the end of the war, Gilda draws much of its peculiar power from its jumble of genres, and the unexpected way its characters grind at each other. Johnny, a hardboiled gambler who looks suavely uncomfortable in his dinner jacket, becomes manager of a casino in Buenos Aires, working for Ballin Mundsen (Macready), a frozen-faced mastermind who wields a swordcane, enjoys spying on his customers and associates from a control room in the gambling joint, and forms the apex of a three-way love triangle that triggers the plot. Mundsen turns out to be fronting for a group of ex-Nazis, and Macready's scarred intensity serves him well as a stereotypical movie Nazi, but the trouble in the film actually comes from his marriage to the beautiful young Gilda (Hayworth), who crucially acts throughout with an un-fatale honesty and finally reveals herself as far stronger than either of her paramours. Johnny and Gilda were once lovers, but the hero's neurotic hatred of her comes because she has alienated the affections of Mundsen, his "best friend," and when the casino owner appears dead, he plans to marry her as a way of punishing her for her treatment of the casino owner. Mundsen returns from the grave to be killed again in a coda that strains hard to get a conventional happy ending out of a situation whose implications skirt the Hays Code's idea of the objectionable.
Photographed by Rudolph Maté with a marvellously oneiric style, making full use of the central casino sets—which are almost as evocative as those of von Sternberg's Shanghai Gesture—and benefiting from all the class a shaky major studio like Columbia could trot out for a prestige production, Gilda is, in many ways, an absolute triumph of the cinema-bis. Ford and Hayworth, usually limited but engaging and photogenic performers, have definitive performances drawn out of them like teeth, and Macready—elsewhere a great heavy in the likes of My Name is Julia Ross, The Bandit of Sherwood Forest and The Big Clock—has the time of his life as the complex villain, prevented from taking top billing for his lead role simply by the dictates of the star system. Charles Vidor was a journeyman otherwise noted—if at all—for his musicals—including a different take on Hayworth in Cover Girl and a replay of the obsessive triangle of Gilda with James Cagney taking over the Macready role as he tangles with Doris Day and Cameron Mitchell in Love Me or Leave Me—was here handed a studio assignment that turned out miraculously right, and has a resonance beyond its immediate exotic charm. As the posters claimed, "there never was a woman like Gilda!"