Friday, July 31, 2009

Review – Gilda

July 31, 2009

Gilda – U.S., 1946

Ballin Mundson is a peculiar fellow, a wealthy man who walks the streets alone at night assisted by a walking cane that substitutes for a weapon whenever the need for one arises. He is a man so sure of himself that the moment he lays eyes on something he wants, he stops at nothing to get what he desires and once he has it refuses to part with it. In many ways, he is extraordinary, a somewhat menacing figure operating outside the law in plain view of everyone, as if daring someone to try to take him down. When he marries, it is not for love, but rather I suspect because he liked what he saw and had the means to entice it. In this respect, he is like the many other patrons who watched Gilda dance and found themselves enthralled. The difference is that he had the means to offer her a new life, something incredibly enticing to a woman who’s just had her heart broken. Upon returning to his home in Buenos Aires, Ballin Mundson’s first intention is to introduce his new bride to his right-hand man, Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford). When the meeting does not go well, he tells his better half, “I want you to like him.” His wife responds, “Are you sure?” It is both a question and a warning.

Earlier, we watched Johnny receive the news of his boss’s recent nuptials with what can perhaps best be described as slight unease. After all, it was Ballin who had told him early on in their friendship that women and gambling didn’t mix. Brought upstairs to meet Ballin new trophy, Johnny is witness to one of the most dazzling introductions to a character ever. Told that someone wants to meet her, Ballin’s new bride Gilda (Rita Hayworth) turns her head towards her husband and Johnny energetically and seems to be positioning herself in her most flattering posture, as if she is suddenly being asked to perform for a packed house. On her face is a broad, welcoming smile that could melt even the coldest of hearts. However, upon seeing Johnny, her smile abruptly fades, and it takes all of her strength for her to muster another much less heartfelt one. The difference does not go unnoticed.

And thus begins a dangerous game of secrets and lies, of flirtation and retreat, and revenge and counter-revenge. Gilda flirts openly with her husband’s customers, not because she wishes to hurt her husband, but rather because he wants to get back at Johnny. After dancing with one of them, she asks Johnny point blank, “Does it bother you?” If it does, he’d be the last one to admit it. Later, she’ll threaten to leave with a different patron. Johnny’s response is simple. “Why don’t you?” She does, but she eventually comes back. She has to. Later she’ll tell Johnny, “I hate you so much I would destroy myself to hurt you.” At that moment, I have no doubt that Johnny would echo her sentiments, at least externally.

It is their tense relationship that makes Charles Vidor’s Gilda such a fascinating film to behold. Two adults, each having hurt the other, waging their own style of combat. Gilda’s weapon is her charm and the fact that men eagerly flock to her at every turn. Each affectionate look, she hopes, will drive another dagger into Johnny’s heart. For his part, Johnny employs indifference, pretending – perhaps even to himself – that Gilda’s actions have no affect on him and that all he cares about is keeping her indiscretions from her husband. Hayworth is simply perfect in the role, capturing all of Gilda’s conflicting emotions so well that she is always a sympathetic character even when her actions don’t necessarily warrant sympathy. Ford is equally up to the task, displaying a mixture of indifference and rather vicious antagonism when around Gilda. As for George Macready, whose character stands the most to lose in this deadly love triangle, his character is unfortunately bogged down in a rather incoherent plotline that sees him trying to achieve global power, apparently with the help of some patents and a secret society of powerful individuals. The exact nature of the plot, as well as the actions of several shady individuals, is never fully explained, but we get a general sense of what is going on, and that seems to be all that is required to understand Ballin’s actions.

After all, Gilda is really Ford and Hayworth’s film. It is their scenes that resonate and make us look forward to their next rather testy encounter. And we’re not fools. We know that underneath their animosity and bitter words, there still exist the kinds of feelings that bind people together for eternity. However, Writer E.A. Elington and Screenwriter Marion Parsonnet avoid most of the Hollywood clichés that are found in other films in this genre. His script is difficult to predict, and because of that, it remains intriguing throughout. If there is one problem, other than Ballin’s plans for world domination, it is the decision to have Farrell narrate the events in the story. I have always felt that narrations such as this remove a portion of the film’s suspense by seemingly revealing that at least one character has survived to tell the story. However, this is a small gripe about an otherwise interesting and spellbinding tale.

I have a feeling that some people only know Rita Hayworth as the woman whose pin-up provided cover for Andy Dufresne’s escape in 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption. The woman was in fact so much more. Born Rita Cansino in 1918, Rita Hayworth was an accomplished dancer and an amazing actress. She is listed as acting in at least 64 films during a career that spanned over forty years and was ranked #98 on Empire magazine’s list of the top 100 movies stars of all time. Gilda is just one of her many impressive roles, and it is an excellent place for people wishing to discover her for themselves to begin. (on DVD)

3 and a half stars

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this very detailed and well-written review of the movie 'Gilda'. Your reviews make me want to watch the movies that you review, and they make me want to watch all movies, cinema, and television in a more thoughtful way.

Also, thanks for the links to your favorite flicks at the Archive.