I feel like the writers of Gilda should have picked just one plot and stuck with it.
It starts out as a film noir, with Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) bumming around in Buenos Aires and scamming people by gambling with rigged dice. One night when one of Farrell’s targets tries to rob his “winnings” back, a mysterious and elegantly-dressed stranger comes to his rescue. The stranger introduces himself as Bailin Mundson (George Macready) and, sizing Farrell up as a gambling shark, invites him to an exclusive casino he knows about. “But they won’t let you use your own dice there,” he warns, calling out Farrell for cheating. Farrell turns up and finds a way to cheat anyway – at cards instead of dice – and is brought before the casino owner, who turns out to be Mundson. Thinking fast, Farrell says that it was all a stunt to prove to Mundson that Farrell could work for him – what better way to catch a cheater than to have someone who knew what cheaters did?
Mundson takes him up on it, and Farrell quickly rises in the ranks and gains Mundson’s trust. So much so that when Mundson returns from a business trip, Farrell is one of the first people Mundson calls to share the news that he got married while he was away, inviting Farrell to his mansion to meet his new wife Gilda (Rita Hayworth). However – not only have Farrell and Gilda already met – they were once a couple, and they’d had a really ugly breakup. Gilda and Farrell keep this fact to themselves, but gradually their former relationship creates….tension.
Gilda only married Mundson as a rebound from Farrell, and first tries flaunting that in Farrell’s face. But Farrell knows her game and plays up the dutiful-employee angle, swooping in to intervene with messages “from your husband” when Gilda starts chatting up other guys in the casino. She doubles down on the flirting, he doubles down on the bodyguard-ing. Every so often the pair also have a private spat about their old relationship and Whether They Still Feel Things For Each Other, all while trying to keep the whole thing secret from Mundson.
Now, if that had been the only plot, that would have been enough. But the film also throws in a subplot about Mundson’s involvement in a shady business deal involving former Nazi industrialists and tungsten mines that I had a hard time keeping up with. I’m not even certain how or why this was added to the film at all; it may have been added as an excuse or a plot device to explain some of Mundson’s behavior, and I found myself both puzzled by that plot and ultimately not really paying attention to it.
Also, there’s a big chunk of the film where Farrell’s treatment of Gilda gets really, really icky, to the point where I was starting to be reminded of Gaslight. (I will withhold details for the sake of spoilers, but there’s some elaborate manipulation and fakeouts.) Farrell isn’t a prince, but for me that bit really tipped him over from being an anti-hero into being a full-on jerk, and that part of the film got pretty uncomfortable to watch.
Part of what made that bit uncomfortable was the film’s treatment of Gilda. This was Rita Hayworth’s breakout role, and Gilda is written as a wild femme fatale and super-flirt; one scene even sees her doing a night club act which verges on being a strip tease (all she removes is a long glove, but she does so very seductively). The film uneasily suggests that the way Farrell treats her is justified as a result.
It also made issues for Hayworth after the film. She was able to really sell that bombshell character, but the real Hayworth was a shy, quiet romantic who longed to have a quiet home and family life. The “bombshell” image from this film lingered, causing Hayworth a lot of frustration in her personal life; she once complained to a friend that the men she dated “go to bed with Gilda, but wake up with me.” Personally, I wish that Gilda the film treated its star a little better.
As a footnote: I am pleased to reportthat this is my 200th Review for this blog. I’ve also heard that there is a new edition of the 1001 Movies To See Before You Die book coming out in October, which will add a few more movies to the list; but I’m raring to go. Thanks for reading so far, and stick around!