Gilda (1946)


It's easy to watch movies that are easy on the eyes...
It's easy to watch movies that are easy on the eyes...

Genre: Noir Drama

Starring: Rita Hayworth (Only Angels Have Wings • The Lady from Shanghai), Glenn Ford (3:10 to Yuma (1957)The Big Heat)

Directed By: Charles Vidor (Love Me or Leave MeCover Girl)

Overview: In Buenos Aires, cheating gambler Johnny Farrell is hired on by illegal casino owner Ballin Mundson. They drink to the continued success of their business relationship, agreeing that women would spoil it. When Ballin returns from a trip with his new wife, Gilda, Johnny knows things will sour - especially since Johnny and Gilda are well acquainted.

Film Noir is a finite resource, defined fairly clearly as having been made between the early 40s to the late 50s. It’s also my favourite genre, or sub-genre for you sticklers out there. Still, I pace myself from completely immersing myself into Noir’s library; I don’t want to run out of new material too soon. That being said, there’s still a lot of essential Noir out there that I haven’t yet seen. That includes Gilda, a film I’ve just recently enjoyed for the first time. Before last week, if some evil alien had come down, pointed a phaser at my head and said, “Tell me right now. What is the most iconic, most definitive Film Noir? - and don’t give me any Zeethlecrap,” I might have been hard-pressed to give a quick answer. Today though, my instant, confident answer would be “Gilda, you hideous freak.”

It begins with gambling cheat Johnny (Glenn Ford) getting rescued by illegal Buenos Aires casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready) from a mugging. Ballin invites Johnny to his casino, where Johnny quickly gets caught cheating again. Rather than finding himself in a pinch, Johnny proves himself resourceful enough to get hired on permanently. Ballin and his new right-hand man Johnny Farrell have a wonderful arrangement – an arrangement, they both agree, that could only be ruined by a woman. Of course, on his way back from a trip, Ballin introduces Johnny to his new wife.

Johnny Farrell: I thought we agreed that women and gambling didn't mix.
Ballin Mundson: My wife does not come under the category of women, Johnny.

If things weren’t complicated enough, it’s rather obvious that Ballin’s wife Gilda (Rita Hayworth) and Johnny have a past. You might think the plot goes the typical route of secret romance, where Johnny and Gilda do what they can to be together without getting caught, but nothing is further from the truth. In fact, Johnny does all he can to ensure that Gilda stays true to her husband, but she proves to be less than cooperative. This is where interesting things become dangerous.


Though Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford may not be my all-time favourite people of the Film Noir era, it is difficult to ignore their incredible performances in Gilda. The glamorous Rita Hayworth plays Gilda as a deadly conniver, as one of the coldest hot-headed vamps I’ve seen in film yet. But Rita also plays Gilda with a brilliant subtext. The astute can find holes in Gilda’s façade; we can often see the reasons behind her ploys, we can often understand why she plays the games she does with those around her. For his part, Johnny is all too honest. He’s tough, witty, brave. His words are ever double-edged, vitriol spat with contempt that reminds us how improper 1946’s cinema can get. His permanent sneer may possibly be more memorable than Gilda’s introductory hair-flip… possibly.

Johnny Farrell: Statistics show that there are more women in the world than anything else. Except insects.

There’s also quite a nice surprise in incredible comic relief role of bathroom attendant Uncle Pio (Steven Geray). Like a classic jester, his disrespectful words of wisdom are insightful surprises. And then there’s George Macready’s not-so-subtle scar that wonderfully helps complete his menacing, villainous megalomaniacal character. At the end of his hand is his faithful friend, a sword cane that does his most important talking for him.

Gilda’s story is more than a tale of a few people. I’d dare call it a Noir distillation, basking in the genre’s atmosphere before all other concerns. From locale to lighting, from characters to conclusion, from malignant wit to decadent dress, Gilda shines with that just-a-hint-of-darkness mood that surrounds the people we learn to love and/or hate. And when Gilda ends, if you’ve seen no Noir before, you can say that you get it, because Gilda is that ‘it’.

 Oh, he takes his job so SERIOUSLY!
Oh, he takes his job so SERIOUSLY!

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 8 Script: 9 Plot: 8 Mood: 9

Overall Rating: 86% (Gilded In Perfection)

The only thing that Gilda’s missing, the only thing that could make it Noir-er than it already is, would be a chuffing, steamy train station with the wrong side of the tracks plainly visible in the background…

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Rita's hair flip was a sly little bit that they snuck past the censors. I have read that it was meant to be a little blow-job reference.

Hey, it works for me!

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