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USA 1946
Directed by
Charles Vidor
110 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars


For once the promotional posters got it right: "There never was a woman like Gilda!". Rita Hayworth's unforgettable eponymous femme fatale represents not only the actress’s career highpoint but also one of the classic statements of the silver screen's worship of female beauty, forever captured in an iconic screen moment by Rudolph Maté's camera when Hayworth, sweeps up into our view in response to George Macready’s ambiguous question " Gilda. are you decent?".

The plot is a rather hokey affair about a suave nutter Ballin Mundson (Macready) who runs a casino down in Buenos Aires and has dealings with Nazis over control of a tungsten cartel. He picks up Glenn Ford’s Johnny Farrell from the gutter and makes him his No 1 man, but when he returns home with Gilda as his wife, it turns out that Johnny and she had once been lovers. 

For a large part this is standard B grade fare but what lifts Vidor’s film out of the ordinary is both Hayworth’s performance and the love-hate relationship between Gilda and Johnny. There are few films that manage to push the needle this far into the libidinal hot zone, the sexual frustration culminating in Gilda’s drunken performance of "Put The Blame On Mame" that drives Johnny into a frenzy as his bottled-up desire explodes under Gilda’s shameless taunting (you'll notice that Hayworth doesn't have a microphone but that was no matter as her singing voice was dubbed by Anita Ellis). What exactly Gilda saw in studio player Ford's characteristically under-powered performance as tough guy Johnny is far less apparent (Bogart would have been a much better choice for the part).  

Rather less easy to process is the relationship between Johnny and Mundsen, I suspect that some analysts would see in it a homo-erotic attachment, perhaps with a twist of sado-masochism but it is questionable if this was intentional, Either way, the film is at its best when the three-way dynamic is at work, each of the trio as it were, living through the other two. their self-mage being reflected mirror-like by them. Once Mundsen effectively drops out of the picture proceedings become much more banal before the film ends with a perfunctory resolution. 

FYI: Hayworth was married to Orson Welles at the time and although they were soon to divorce made the box office failure The Lady From Shanghai with him in 1948. Vidor, Hayworth and Ford re-teamed for the historical pot-boiler The Loves of Carmen, which was also released in 1948.




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