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Posts Tagged ‘Rita Hayworth’

One of the pleasures associated with going to the vintage classics strand at the local Picturehouse is trying to predict how many other people you’re going to be sharing the cinema with. Sometimes it can be absolutely packed out, and not necessarily for the films you might expect – I recall Touch of Evil being particularly ram-jammed – and sometimes the lack of interest in a genuine classic can be really sort of dismaying (I recall a screening of RoboCop with probably less than a dozen people there). This week’s revival was Charles Vidor’s 1946 movie Gilda. This is to some extent just a vehicle for its star, Rita Hayworth, and much of the pre-screening chatter concerned the one-time Mrs Welles: ‘I’d’ve thought more people would come to see Rita Hayworth! She’s so glamorous! I guess young people just haven’t heard of her!’

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In the end there was a pretty decent turn-out for a film nearly 70 years old and we settled down to enjoy this noir-ish classic. Set in Argentina in the mid-1940s, the film is narrated by one Johnny Farrell, played by Glenn Ford (an actor probably best known to modern audiences for playing Clark Kent’s adoptive father in the 1978 Superman). Farrell has just arrived in Buenos Aires, and, being a natural grifter, migrates into the more suspect circles of city life. Soon enough he has made the acquaintance of casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready), and ends up working for him, rapidly rising to the position of de facto manager of his gambling operations. Mundson is up to his neck in something else, however, and Johnny can’t quite figure out what.

All this is put somewhat on the back burner, however, when Mundson returns from a business trip with a new bride, the beautiful and vivacious Gilda (Hayworth, of course). The only problem is that Johnny and Gilda have history together, intense and intimate history of which her new husband is completely unaware. There is, to put it mildly, unfinished business between the two of them, and finishing it could end up destroying all three members of this rather suspect triangle…

There is a lot that is noir-ish about Gilda – it has a fairly amoral sensibility, ambiguous characters, and a certain degree of low-key mayhem, to say nothing of the shimmering black and white photography – but on the other hand there is a lot that isn’t. One of the odd things about it is the way that what starts out as a crime thriller about a lowlife on the make keeps threatening to turn into something else – initially, it would appear, some sort of Casablanca knock-off. There’s the exotic foreign setting (nearly all realised on sound stages in California, of course), the American adventurer hero, and a selection of foreign types – more than that, there’s the way the script embellishes a straightforward thriller plotline with some fairly sparkling dialogue.

The film sustains this tone well past the point of Hayworth’s arrival, which isn’t that early in the story – but once she does appear, the film heavily favours her, visually at least. She rarely looks anything less than ravishing and alluring, even while her character is being depicted as an inconstant, amoral hedonist. That said, there is a striking shift in perspective towards the end of the film – to begin with, Farrell is definitely the point of audience identification, with Gilda presented as a threat to what he and Mundson can achieve together. By the end, however, the audience is strongly encouraged to see Gilda as the unfairly victimised target of Farrell’s animus – a much more sympathetic character.

This would probably be more effective were the third act of Gilda slightly better constructed. Most of the film does work very well as a noirish, slightly overcooked thriller about a clearly-doomed love triangle – but the last third of the film opens with someone faking their death and grows ever more melodramatic from there. On reflection, we’re invited to assume Farrell is acting out of a sense of guilt, feeling that he has somehow betrayed Mundson, but this isn’t quite set up or articulated well enough. That the plot partly revolves around a bizarre, obscure scheme to make a vast fortune from monopolising tungsten production doesn’t help much. A couple of diversions into musical numbers just add to the sense of a film which doesn’t quite know what it is any more – one of these is basically just filler. The other, Hayworth’s much-imitated and dare-I-say-it iconic rendition of Put the Blame on Mame (as much as someone can be said to be rendering a song when they’re dubbed by someone else), at least supports the plot, but it seems to me to be undercut just a bit by being so heavily trailed through the rest of the film.

Still, this is an entertaining and slickly-made film, especially in its middle section, and it has achieved legendary status – well, bits of it at least. Sometimes the films that last longest aren’t necessarily the best ones. There’s a lot of good stuff in Gilda, but it’s still not what I’d call a great film overall.

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