I hate you, then they kiss
By a customer
from Carlisle, England
, 27 Dec 2008
Gilda (1946) is one of those films that exemplifies the best of a Hollywood movie - a glamourous surface with a corrupt interior.
Often described as a Film Noir, I would sugges that this is rather a star film that borrows Noir motifs - the hard boiled hero, the femme fetale and the cold European type. Shady conspiracies thicken the broth, but apart from that this film is a classic example of Hollywood wanting to show off a star - Rita Hepworth as the eponymous Gilda. Much of the rest is trimming, and the plot has none of the twisting intensity of the classical Noir.
Nevertheless this is a film about three people whose pasts remain undisclosed, but whose futures are open. To emphasise the point we are pitched right in with a close focus, low-angled shot of a dice roll. The camera pans back to show a seedy hero taking his winnings. This introduces Johny Farrel (Glenn Ford) along with the first theme of the film - 'a man makes his own luck.'
The film hastily brings Johnny into contact with a Ballin Mundson. George Macready plays the aloof German casino owner to great effect (accent aside), and turns Johnny into a gofer cum gay lover cum son cum inheritor. You can take your pick and the film operates on enough levels to help you out (indeed one of the most telling lines is when Johnny makes a crack about Gilda being Ballin's laundry to be picked up, and she waspishly retorts how a psychiatrist might view such a statement).
The film really gets going with the introduction of Gilda - as if the title didn't warn us. She is introduced by Ballin taking Johnny home to introduce him to his new wife. Exchanges of looks and comments (not to mention telling body language - such as Gilda slipping her dress back over one of her shoulders, but not both), speak volumes.
Ballin's feline perceptiveness acts as the audience's way in. Following the introductions, Ballin takes Johnny outside and asks if they knew one another. Johnny ducks the issue, but Ballin comments on how much she hates him on sight. From this and other references we know that Gilda and Johhny have a past, but it is never revealled. Personally I like this aspect to the film, as it lends depth to a story that lacks a real dense plot. What we do know is that they are as passionate as any screen couple, and that they hate one another - or repeatedly use hate as the word to describe the whole gamut of their feelings.
The formal aspects to the film are great - very strong use of contrast, with the bright white exposure of the casino, against the dark interiors of people's houses. This is thematically apt. Also there are some brilliantly staged scenes, such as one where Johnny is in the centre of the room with Ballin speaking to him in the foreground (his back to the camera) and Gilda in the background facing in and commenting. All three are arranged in a diagonal line and shot in deep focus. The camera work allows us time to really drink in the relations between all three (again the choregraphy of them at the table on their first evening together is brilliant - Gilda and Johnny in close up shots next to one another, while Ballin is opposite them in reverse shots sitting alone and talking).
Finally there are a couple of strong supporting actors - the coat attendant who acts as a worldly-wise chorus (I work in a job where I pick up all the gossip), and the Argentine policeman who is hovering on the scene to close in on a Tungsten cartel that Ballin is running (this has nicely subtle overtones of being run by Nazi's who have fled to Argentina). I like these two because they anchor the film. We can make sense of the action through their eyes (though not in any obvious narrational sense).
I am still not sure how to read the film's attitude to sexism - it probably tried to cut it both ways (note Gilda's song - 'Blame it on the Mame, boys'). That aside, Rita Hepworth is scintillating, and Glenn Ford's eyes are great. Personally I prefer Greta Garbo in similar roles (Grand Hotel for instance), though, as everyone else points out, the striptease where she removes only a glove is a masterpiece (note the reverse symmetry with the way Gilda readjusts her dress when she is introduced to Johnny).
This film is definately worth watching, though other films like Laura are better examples of the femme fetale from the classic Film Noir era.
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