In film noir, the past is never dead. It always comes back to haunt the dogged hero, no matter how good or evil he may be, the past catches up with him. In this film, the titular Gilda is that past and it has definitely caught up with him. Gilda is film noir at its finest, an engrossing plot, a hero struggling with his inner demons, and best of all, a femme fatale for the ages. It’s not a perfect film, but it is a really good one, with plenty to think about and enough to entertain.
As the film opens, our hero, Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), is befriending a casino owner named Ballin Mundson (George Macready). They decide to go into business together, with Mundson taking Farrell under his wing in return for complete loyalty. The strange thing about this is that Farrell makes the offer of complete and total loyalty himself, but that’s the only way Mundson will have it. The two agree “that women and gambling don’t mix” and continue on happily for some time, until Mundson breaks that rule and gets married to Gilda (Rita Hayworth), an incredibly beautiful woman who is more open than she should be. It is later revealed that she and Farrell were involved with each other in the past, and a cruel manipulative game of jealously develops between the three of them.
That game cannot be described fairly as a love triangle, though that’s technically what it is. Johnny and Gilda are in love, but they express this love through hate. Whatever happened to their relationship in the past (it’s never fully explained; we never know who left who or why), it hurt both of them enough that they now dedicate themselves to making all involved as miserable as possible. Mundson is not exactly caught in the middle, though he couldn’t have known what he was in for when he married Gilda. He sees that the two of them hate each other, and because that suits him pretty well, he doesn’t ask to many questions.
There’s so much jealousy and hurt between the three of them that it’s hard to unravel, but for starters Johnny takes his oaths of loyalty very seriously. He stays completely loyal to Mundson the whole time. I thought this was pretty strange because I was prepared to bet at the beginning of the film that he planning to double cross Mundson the whole time. He stays loyal to Mundson, and this includes making sure Gilda is too. He can’t keep track of her all the time, so he compromises and makes sure Mundson doesn’t hear about Gilda’s philandering. It’s as if he’s trying to make up for whatever went wrong with him and Gilda by making sure she stays faithful to Mundson (as far as he can tell, anyway). All throughout the film, it’s fun to try to figure out everybody’s motives for doing what they do, which can get pretty crazy I can tell you.
The highlight of this film for me, without a doubt, is Rita Hayworth. She gives such a great performance here it’s unbelievable. The best thing about it is that she can say one thing and mean the complete opposite. It works very well. They’re also a couple of musical numbers in the film (sung by Anita Ellis). “Put the Blame on Mame,” which is sung twice once in an acoustic and once in a big band version, is particularly great and ties into the themes of the film quite well. Unfortunately none of the other performances shine anywhere near as bright as Hayworth’s. Macready is adequate as Mundson but Ford is laughable as Johnny. The only big problem I have with the movie is him; he’s stiff throughout and it’s hard to believe that someone like Gilda would fall for him. Not only is Ford miscast, but he’s not a very good actor either.
Gilda is a fabulous example of film noir and a greatly engrossing film as well. Though at first I had trouble believing some of the things that the characters did, by the end of the film it was making a lot more sense. It’s a pity Hayworth has to play opposite Ford, but their relationship is still pretty interesting. I would definitely recommend this to noir fans, but I can see most anyone appreciating this movie.
“Pardon me, but your husband is showing.”
Long story short: 3.5/4