A toxic love-hate imbroglio taking the center stage in Charles Vidor’s GILDA, the film that cements Rita Hayworth as the unrivaled pin-up goddess of Golden Age Hollywood, but also covertly circumvents the production code with its latent homosexual undertone.
A bare-bones love triangle actualizes itself in Buenos Aries, an American gambler Johnny Farrell (Ford) is saved at the pistol point by Ballin Mundson (Macready), the owner of a local casino who has other hidden agendas in his business sphere. Johnny is taken under the latter’s wings and soon becomes his right-hand man. Their immaculate bond starts to crack when Johnny finds out that Ballin has married his jilted lover Gilda (Hayworth) in the spur of the moment. Their trilateral mythos can be boiled down to this: unwitting of Johnny and Gilda’s history, Ballin falls for Gilda hard, but Gilda doesn’t love him back, still hankers for Johnny while holding a grudge against his desertion. But what about Johnny? For my money and according to how the story plays out (before its ill-devised, slipshod ending), his allegiance to Ballin is piquantly spiked with a dotage of affection which outstrips the usual male-bonding compartment and justifies his motives: after Ballin owning up to him that he truly loves Gilda, Johnny intends to contain the damage in the minimum level, andto countervail Gilda’s willful vengeance of playing a promiscuous siren to provoke and hurt Ballin, he minutely tries to keep Ballin out of harm’s way as a vigilant guardian and refers Gilda as a piece of laundry he routinely collects at the beck and call of Ballin.
What is more ambiguous is Johnny's feelings for Gilda, we cannot simply blame it all on the love-hatred dynamismfor his persistence of punishing, even gaslighting Gilda after Ballin is presumably dead in a later accident. There must also bethegreen-eyed monster in the works, but his jealousy is not stemmed from Ballin but Gilda, who takes possession of the man he loves and then cavalierly betrays him out of her whims, Johnny’s cruelty is misogynous on the surface, but subliminally it is Freudian all over the place. Regrettably, the mining of a psycho-sexual mother lode is hampered by its time and regulation, hence the cockamamie Hollywood ending ineluctablytakes a shine off the film’s Dionysian luster.
It goes without saying that Ms. Hayworth’s voluptuousness is at the acme through her two signature music numbers (PUT THE BLAME ON MAME - that famous glove-removing tantalization, and AMADO MIO, courtesy to Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher), but her acting chop is also a force to be reckoned with here, Gilda is a paradigm of femme fatale but without a single bone of spite, everything she does is out of that stupid thing we all adore - love, which makes her vulnerability such a lollapalooza to be exposed in the forefront. Her two male co-stars, Glenn Ford amalgamates his youthful dapperness with sizzling gimlet eyes to level out Johnny’s embattled conscience, but the unsung hero isGeorge Macready, a scar-faced villain issuing unexpected charisma in his deep-fried aplomb and tactful evasion, that is the raison d’être of why one can second that his mystique has the allure which is not merely restricted to the opposite sex.
referential points: Douglas Sirk’s WRITTEN IN THE WIND (1956, 8.0/10); Charles Vidor’s HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN (1952, 6.8/10)