I’m finally back to blogathon business and, don’t worry, I’ll eventually give you an explanation why I recently skipped so many I had subscribed to. But for now, I hope you accept my apologies! Anyway, I said “enough” and made a choice: today, I’m writing for my blog. Well, after all, I’m here to celebrate Rita Hayworth’s centenary! The glamorous actress would have been 100 on October 17 and Michaela from Love Letters to Old Hollywood has decided to host a blogathon in her honour. For the classic film addict, I probably won’t necessarily make you discover a film since I’ve decided to cover Rita’s most iconic role: Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1956). But my “relationship” with this film is one that is worth telling you about.
As a matter of fact, it starts with my first steps into the world of classic films. Well, almost. You probably remember me telling you about this book entitled Les Stars de Cinéma. It was one of the elements that made me discover classic films. In this book, there are a few pictures of Rita Hayworth as Gilda so, obviously, I was aware this film existed quite early in my discovery of classic films. Just looking at these photos I thought Rita Hayworth was one of the most beautiful women in the world, and I still think that. I WANT HER HAIR. She looked good as a redhead, as a brunette and as a blonde. Versatile. So, this film was rapidly included on my must-watch list. But I actually didn’t watch it that fast.
I had the occasion to start watching my first classic films thanks to this video store in my neighborhood where they had a TON of great classic films to rent. Unfortunately, it closed doors (like most video stores) and now it’s a place where you can buy gardening tools. Great… Well, in their collection, they had Gilda but, every time I was going, I was always on the verge to rent it and was finally opting for another classic. I don’t know why, really. Maybe because there are so many good classic films to see? And they had a lot of choices, so it was always hard to make a decision. In the end, I never rented the film there because it closed before I had the occasion to make my mind. *clap clap* Now, I hear you say “yes, but you can watch films on the Internet and blablabla. DVD era is dead.” Well, back then it wasn’t THAT dead. And to this day, I still like to buy DVDs. What’s so extraordinary about that? Anyway, the other day, I remembered that the first time I saw Gilda, it was not on DVD. No, much better: it was ON BIG SCREEN. Somehow, I had completely forgotten about that. Therefore, my first viewing didn’t give me that much of an impression and I think the film gets better on each viewing.
The first time I saw a clip from Gilda was actually by watching The Shawshank Redemption. Remember this scene where the convicts watch the film. The clip that is shown is Gilda’s iconic entrance. An unforgettable moment. The prisoners get very excited over the way she moves her hair, but who wouldn’t be? She looks just fabulous! Interestingly, the novella written by Stephen King on which the film was adapted was called Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. And Rita has an important role to play in the story!
Gilda is worth seeing for many reasons, the main one being that it’s a complete and complex film. The basic story, however, is simple: Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) arrives in Buenos Aires where he befriends Ballin Mundson (George Macready), the owner of a casino. He soon becomes his associate. After a business trip, Ballin is back with his new wife: Gilda (Rita Hayworth). Well, it turns out that she and Johnny were once engaged (small world). A love-hate relationship between the two begins with the husband looking in the dark.
As I was watching it again for the blogathon, I realised how this film is a great model of film noir. Released in the 40s (the golden decade for noirs), it contains many ingredients of this film movement: a significant black and white cinematography, ambiguous male characters, murder, money, a femme fatale (well, yes and no. We’ll come back to that), misogyny and Rita Hayworth herself.
Yes, misogyny sounds pejorative, but the film really is misogynistic or, at least, the male characters are. As a matter of fact, despite liking the film, it always creates a sort of discomfort. Yes, poor Gilda! A most complex character, but she is the light and the center of the film. The more the film progresses, the more you understand her suffering and how she is trapped in a world of controlled by men. At first, you might think that Gilda is just a tease, but the more the story progresses, the more you realise she is, as a matter of fact, simply a free spirit and that she is ready to do a lot to gain back the love of a man. Back in the days, I believe her behaviour would have been disapproved not only by the men, but also by the “well-behaved” women. Today, in a changed society, I think we can see Gilda as a woman who does what she likes and who doesn’t need the approval of the opposite sex. She can do what she wants. Girl power!
I know, I know, Gilda is married. But seriously, have you seen the what kind of man she’s married to? He’s just creepy and she doesn’t love him. And back in the days, getting a divorce wasn’t that easy. Obviously, Gilda has to be careful because her husband isn’t only creepy, he’s also dangerous.
The misogyny in the film is, however, more embodied by Johnny than by Ballin. I saw Glenn Ford in some very sympathetic and life-changing roles such as the teacher in Blackboard Jungle. But it’s hard to have sympathy for Johnny Farrell. Ok, he wants revenge. But he manipulates and controls Gilda so much, it’s almost unhealthy. Of course, that doesn’t make Glenn Ford a bad actor, as he’s very convincing in the role. But I don’t like his character. He and Rita Hayworth, however, have a very tense and exciting chemistry on-screen. This love-hate relationship is felt during all the film and keeps us at the edge of our seats. The two actors share the screen on four other occasions: The Loves of Carmen (Charles Vidor, 1948), Affair in Trinidad (Vincent Sherman, 1952), The Money Trap (Burt Kennedy, 1965) and The Lady In Question (Charles Vidor, 1940).
Rita Hayworth herself delivers one of the best performances of her career. So, it’s no wonder why it became so iconic. She makes her character evolve in the same way the story does and, therefore, reveals more and more about her (Gilda) in a well-calculated time. She doesn’t rush things and doesn’t switch from one emotion to another without justified reasons. We have to say, Rita Hayworth was maybe the best seductress on-screen (even more than Marilyn Monroe, in my opinion) and it almost makes her the perfect femme fatale. However, the best femme fatale is a woman who seduces a guy and leads him to his loss. Most of the time, she doesn’t even love him. Gilda, on the contrary, is in love with Johnny and this seduction game is just a way to get his attention. 100% femme fatale examples would be Anna Moffett (Jane Green) in Out of the Past, Kitty March (Joan Bennett) in Scarlet Street, or Velma Valento (Claire Trevor) in Murder, My Sweet. No, at one point in the film, Gilda looks very desperate and I just want to console her. That’s not really the case with the previously named noir female characters who are just mean. End of the story.
Rita Hayworth also lived her ultimate glory in Gilda thanks to this scene where she sings “Put the Blame On Mame”, a song composed by Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher for the film. In the scene, Rita Hayworth wears this unforgettable black dress and has a brilliant “stage” presence. However, for this particular scene, she was dubbed by Anita Ellis. But, the song is previously heard in a “simpler” scene where Gilda sings the song and plays acoustic guitar. This time, it’s Rita Hayworth’s own voice, which sounds very lovely too. “Put the Blame on Mame” was classified #84 in the top list 100 Years, 100 Songs by the American Film Institute (AFI).
By the way, this song is ALWAYS stuck in my head. But it doesn’t matter as it is a great one!
Gilda was also very well-filmed and glorified Gilda (Rita Hayworth)’s beauty with some impeccable shots. It also gave the overall film a great film noir signature with a black and white cinematography faithful to the genre. It added mystery, tension, and darkness to the story. Visually, I think that my favourite moment is when Ballin runs away with his plane. The contrast between the shadow of the men looking at him and the ocean enlighted by the moon is stunning. The film poster is also very noirish, simply for the contrast created by the cigarette smoke on the dark background. Rudolph Maté was the cinematographer.
On its release, Gilda was a great financial success. For it’s cultural, historical and esthetical significance, the National Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 2013. The film remains important in popular culture. Even Michael Jackson was to use a clip from the film as an introduction to “Smooth Criminal” for his tourney This Is It. Unfortunately, his tragic passing put an abrupt end to the tour. However, we can see the digitally added Michael Jackson to the film in the documentary This Is It.
I love this!
Interestingly, according to IMDB, people through the year observed a certain homosexual undercurrent between Johnny and Ballin. Glenn Ford acknowledged it, but he claimed it initially didn’t occur to the cast and crew while they were filming. Well, in old Hollywood, this kind of subtext was subtle.
Rita Hayworth and her Gilda surely marked film history.
Thanks a lot Michaela for hosting The 100 Years of Rita Hayworth Blogathon!
To read the other entries, click here.