Here it is again. There is something blazingly epic and biblical about this shot:
Every classic film blogger and their grandmother’s great-uncle Fang has written about this movie. Now…it’s my turn.
I like “GILDA” but boy oh boy I have to admit it’s an uncomfortable watch. Sex AND punishment … sex IS punishment, sex AS power. Psychosexual shenanigans done 1946-style. It’s a see-saw of power and oneupsmanship between a man and a woman who are, at times childish, and at most, very very hot.
The destructive, dark side of love & romance is reminiscent to some extent of Bogart & Bergman in “Casablanca” ( Bogie getting the brunt of the heartache ) and even moreso in “Notorious” with Cary Grant and Bergman again ( where Grant really acts like a fat-head ). But “Gilda” turns up the heat ten thousand degrees on the sado-masochistic side of “love.” Here, lovers meet up again after a few years. He done did her wrong and now she tears his heart to shreds. Such tough guys Bogie and Glenn Ford and Cary Grant are, but they can be reduced to ashes. Is it a self~imposed misery of their own making?
RITA HAYWORTH had been kicking around for a while in Hollywood by the time “Gilda” came around. ( Her picture before this was “Tonight and Every Night” with my bête noire – Lee Bowman and the one after, “Down to Earth” with the soon-to-be blacklisted Larry Parks. ) She danced with the masters, Astaire and Kelly. She worked opposite Grant and Cagney. Her role opposite Tyrone Power in “Blood and Sand” might be the precursor to “Gilda” – Woman as Temptress. But Gilda is something else again. I like this movie, it being one of my favorite films of 1946. ( Check out my 1946 list here. ) And I think this is one of the best performances of Hayworth’s career. They finally give her something to work with, so she can paint a canvas with many colors. Here is 28-year old Rita. She dances, she flirts, she taunts, she’s hurt. She’s conflicted. Now on the face of it, psychologically, it’s a sick twisted movie ( c’mon, you know it is ) which is why I like it. Calling it a “love-hate” relationship, as Joseph Calleia does, is too easy. I don’t like to see Gilda tortured, but the back ‘n forth power plays between her and Johnny were sumthin’ else! A couple of reasons why I like this movie:
I was intrigued by the little spy story thread in the movie. Gay, festive…Argentina, the place where Nazis go to hide. Ballin Mundsen ( actor George Macready ), Nazis and the tungsten angle is like Hitchcock’s MacGuffin in “Notorious” ( “Gilda” was released first. ) You know…this scene:
I like the “tension” between Ballin and Johnny. Nah it doesn’t only feel like two guys fighting over the same girl. You’ve seen that a thousand times before in classic movies; this subtext feels a little different. Half-baked idea of mine? No, I don’t think so. I mean there’s not that much loyalty in the world for a man to marry his boss’ widow, who incidentally was his ex-girlfriend, and then not sleep with her. Who’s being faithful to whom:
“She hadn’t been faithful to him while he was alive. But she was going to be faithful now that he was dead.”
“I was born last night when you met me in that alley. That way I’ve no past and all future, see? I like it that way.”
Doesn’t that sound like something from “In A Lonely Place”? It’s not as intense a ‘hero worship’ as in “Desert Fury” between Wendell Corey for John Hodiak, but there’s a there there. Whether it was unintentional or a winking, knowing little Easter egg subtly put in, I find it an interesting layer. Don’t worry, Rita will come on the scene soon enough and set it all straight.
I also like Charles Vidor’s direction. It’s good. Unobtrusive. There’s no music foreshadowing emotions. The music we hear comes from the casino’s orchestra. Vidor’s camera work is fluid ~ he has tracking shots or easily swings the camera around people. I like how he sometimes has the leads in shadow when they speak or has them move from shadow into light. No music underscoring things; sometimes deathly silence. The better for you to pay attention to, my dears. But of course, the movie’s about these two crazy kids:
They’ve got history and proceed to torture each other.
And you know hell hath no fury…so, let the games begin.
- “I was true to one man, once.”
- “I’ll look my very best Ballin. I want all the hired help to approve of me.”
Ssssswishhhhhhh! Arrows fly through the air with the greatest of ease. Gilda’s razor-sharp words squarely hit their mark and slash deeper than the blade in Ballin’s cane.
JOHNNY: “Doesn’t it bother you at all that you’re married?”
GILDA: “What I want to know is, does it bother you?”
Ballin is silky, suave, smooth, serpentine. But I cannot, in all good conscience, carry my alliteration to include sexy. These types often seem to be asexual ( ACK! ) giving earnest hugs and chaste kisses on the cheek.
Hollywood doesn’t want to confuse us by offering sexy villainous-types to compete with our basically good tortured heroes. There is a soupçon of danger and sexiness to Menace. Ballin is smart…observant. He knows. Why else propose this toast that Gilda reluctantly sips to.
These villains are cultured and wealthy; and they do love their wives, in their own fashion. Ballin questions Gilda about knowing Johnny before. It’s a quiet scene; not a sound. They’re in shadow and Gilda’s self-preservation kicks in ( she says nothing ). Laying on the bed, she rolls from the shadow into the light, the proverbial lightbulb goes off, when she realizes what he is saying. He’s got a beautiful woman ( in her own bed, apparently ) and wraps his golden hypnotic voice around these lines:
“You’re a child Gilda. A beautiful Child. And it amuses me to feed you beautiful things because you eat with such a good appetite.”
Bone-chilling. Henry Daniell would be proud. Now we know what Gilda’s dealing with. And so does she:
“But hate can be a very exciting emotion. Very exciting. Haven’t you noticed that? There is a heat in it that both can feel. Didn’t you feel it tonight? I did. It warmed me. Hate is the only thing that has ever warmed me.”
Gilda and Johnny have a couple of guardian angels looking over them but they still have more damage to do to each other first. ( Never let it be said a good Greek chorus gets in the way of true romance ). Poor Johnny. He’s got it bad…and that ain’t good.
Gilda’s got it bad herself. She’s let down her defenses in that lovely quiet moment with Uncle Pio. When Johnny barges in ( somewhat jealous of Uncle Pio being the recipient of Gilda’s attention ) she confesses to him that she was on the rebound. Truce? HA! Naturally, he scoffs at her which leads her to volley this back:
“Would it interest you to know how much I hate you, Johnny? I hate you so much that I would destroy myself to take you down with me. Now, I’ve warned you.”
* * * * *
WHAT IS THIS THING…CALLED LOVE?
“I hated her so I couldn’t get her out of my mind for a minute. She was in the air that I breathe; in the food I ate.”
She’s laid down the gauntlet. She’s going for a Pyrrhic Victory. She’s taking no prisoners. Death and destruction in the game of love never looked so good or felt so hot. Johnny gains the upper hand and keeps her close to him to ensure…his own torment. He becomes more Ballin than Ballin in his possession of Gilda. She’s trapped…like a bird in a “gilded” cage and tries to break out in her own way. Uhhhh, no, this is not merely dancing a jig. She grabs the film by its horns:
GILDA: “Didn’t I get even with you for walking out on me by marrying Ballin… Johnny, there’s never been anybody but you and me. All those things I did were just to make you jealous Johnny. There’s never been anybody but you and me.”
JOHNNY: “Not anybody.”
GILDA: “Not anybody.”
JOHNNY: “What about your husband?! If you could forget him so easily you could forget the others too, couldn’t you.”
GILDA: “But there weren’t any others Johnny.”
JOHNNY: “When you admit them. When you admit them and tell me who they were.”
ADMIT THEM? He wants details? ( Girls, as your cinematic advisor, I suggest you just give your name, rank and serial number in that situation; men don’t really want details no matter WHAT they say ). There’s more volleying back ‘n forth here than in Wimbledon.
He won’t let her go and won’t let himself love her. So Gilda has the most famous acting out moment in film history. It’s the gloriously show-stopping tantrum when she puts the blame on Mame:
Rita in black satin, peel- ing off Gypsy Rose Lee gloves, her hair casca-ding like Niagara Falls and everyone going over a barrel with her.
“You wouldn’t think one woman could marry two insane men in one lifetime. Would you.”
This public display is just too much for Johnny. He finally has to let her go. Or does he? If you think the opposite of love is hate, then you must see how this all plays out. Glenn Ford walks a razor’s edge with his performance, and Rita? Well…she leaves it all out there for the ages. And she is fantastic.
Yes Virginia, there really IS a Love Goddess.
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