Gilda (1946) contains the most famous role and peak performance of WWII's GI "love goddess," the beautiful, alluring, and provocative, red-haired pin-up Rita Hayworth - with her sleek and sophisticated eroticism, lush hair and peaches and cream complexion. Director Charles Vidor lavished admiration on her in this film, helping her to reach her apotheosis as the reigning Hollywood 40s love goddess with this immortal role. Film posters cried: "There NEVER was a woman like Gilda!"
Hayworth's most famous scene is the seductive striptease (to the tune of Put the Blame on Mame) when she only removes long black satin gloves from her arms. Rita Hayworth's life was forever affected by her role, as she once reportedly said: "Every man I knew had fallen in love with Gilda and wakened with me."
The film-noirish screenplay by Marion Parsonnet (and adapted by Jo Eisinger), was taken from an original story by E. A. Ellington. The complex, eccentric, cynical tale was in keeping with the prevailing attitudes of the American post-war era, playing upon US political paranoia of German-Nazi war criminals who escaped and assumed new identities in South America. [Another similar plotline is found in Hitchcock's Notorious (1946)]. The film's themes include implied impotence, misogyny and homosexuality, although only suggested with liberal euphemisms and innuendo to bypass the Production Code. The semi-trashy crime drama is also known for the erotic strains of the strange, tawdry, aberrant romantic triangle (menage a trois) between the three main characters.The Story
The story begins as crippled Buenos Aires casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready), with an obvious sword scar covering the right side of his face (from ear to mouth), saves the life of a down-on-his-luck, oily-haired professional gambler named Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford). Farrell, who opens the film with this line: "To me a dollar was a dollar in any language," has just swindled American sailors with loaded dice in a game of craps played in a waterfront dive. In a dark alley-way, Farrell is threatened by a street tough who wants to rob him of his winnings. Mundson rescues him with his ebony cane and its protruding stiletto dagger. [The revelation of the sexually-powerful cane-dagger is a perverse, compensating Freudian phallic substitute - "It is a most faithful, obedient friend. It is silent when I wish to be silent. It talks when I wish to talk."]
Johnny, eager for money and power, makes his way to Mundson's glittering casino and wins a number of hands of blackjack. He is called into Mundson's upstairs mezzanine office for cheating by two strong arms. The elaborate office has a long row of windows covered with louvered steel shutters (bulletproof and soundproof) for panoramic observations of the casino.
The young gambler again meets the reptilian-like, coldly-dictatorial casino owner: "Well, well, the little man with the sharp friend." With his gambling talent and the boast, "I'll be better if you had me on your side," Johnny easily talks his way into being hired as a croupier-manager to run the illegal casino of the tungsten baron-billionaire. He gestures toward the owner's cane-dagger and offers himself up as a male friend:
You see, this way, you'll have two friends. You've no idea how faithful and obedient I can be - for a nice salary.
Promising to be absolutely loyal and totally devoted to his older mentor, Johnny also assures Mundson that there are no women anywhere in his life, and they both agree that "gambling and women do not mix." Johnny brags: "I was born last night when you met me in that alley. That way, I'm no past and all future, see? And I like it that way." [Their bisexual relationship is muted by the Production Code constraints of the 1940s.] 'Bought' by Mundson, a tuxedoed Johnny narrates in first-person voice-over - one of his many subjective, stream-of-consciousness recollections told from his point-of-view:
He let me ease myself right to the top. At first, I just watched the play and the check-offs. By the way, about that time, the war ended. [Newspaper headlines read: "Alemania Se Rinde!" - translated: 'Germany surrenders']
Mundson's office has two control panels that can monitor and control the sound and lighting of various sections of the casino. With an ever-observant eye, the suave but sinister casino owner opens the slats and closely watches the celebration of the war's end. As they share a drink, Johnny is asked to substitute for Mundson as his major domo during an extended trip:
Mundson: You're sharp, Johnny, almost as sharp as my other little friend. But not quite so obedient.
Mundson: My other little friend will kill for me, Johnny.
Johnny: Well, that's what friends are for. (He releases the catch in the stick's knob - it snaps into a rapier with the blade exposed)
Mundson: (toasting) To us, Johnny. To the three of us.
Johnny: Three of us. [To himself in voice-over: "Makes me laugh now to think back. Me so sure it was just the three of us. I soon found out, all right."]
Late one Saturday afternoon after Mundson returns from his trip, he summons Johnny to his glittering white house. Johnny muses about the unease he feels - the turning point in his relationship with Mundson:
You'd think a bell would have rung, or you'd think I'd have had some instinct of warning. But I didn't. I just walked right into it.
The butler at Mundson's glittering white house hints at the changes to come: "I hope it will be the same, senior Farrell." The Hitler-like, cold-voiced, erudite tycoon Mundson calls Johnny to come upstairs. At the top of the stairs, Mundson greets his henchman with a wide smile:
Johnny: You look foolish.
Mundson: I'll show you why. (He leads Johnny by the arm)
Johnny: Where's the canary?
Mundson: How did you know?
Johnny: How'd I know what?
Mundson: So you don't know. Come. (He opens his outer bedroom door and faint singing is heard through the doorway) This is where the canary is, John. Quite a surprise to hear a woman singing in my house, hey Johnny?
The camera zooms in on Johnny's dumb-founded, hurt face, as he stutters about Mundson's new acquisition: "That's quite - a surprise." As Mundson enters his inner bedroom suite with Johnny, a woman is singing along to a phonograph recording of "Put the Blame on Mame." He introduces his new exuberantly healthy American wife, the film's femme fatale to Johnny, in one of filmdom's best-known film entrances:
Mundson: Gilda, are you decent?
Gilda: Me? (She gives a long, sensual look at Johnny, and pulls up one side of her strapless dress) Sure, I'm decent.
She is the hedonistic, flirtatious, auburn-haired Gilda (Rita Hayworth) back from their honeymoon. In her first screen appearance as she throws back her head and tosses her hair, she responds sexily. Her thick mane of hair is sent flying. Her presence splits the semi-explicit liaison between her husband and "the hired help." Mundson solemnly tells his wife to dress for her first appearance in the casino:
Mundson: Look your best, my beautiful. This will be the casino's first glimpse of you.
Gilda: I'll look my very best, Ballin. I want all the hired help to approve of me.
Mundson senses some distance between them after their first antagonistic meeting: "For some reason, she doesn't like you, Johnny...I know my wife...How would she form an instant antagonism like that?" Mundson also mentions an odd similarity between all of them: "It's an odd coincidence, Johnny. Listen to this. She told me she was born the night she met me. All three of us have no pasts, just futures. Isn't that interesting?" Johnny is miffed and interprets Gilda's appearance differently than Mundson - instead of seeing similarities, he senses an obvious intrusion into their own bonded, male relationship:
Johnny: I thought we agreed that women and gambling didn't mix.
Mundson: My wife doesn't come under the category of 'women,' Johnny.
Johnny: I could have made a mistake.
Mundson: (in a dictatorial tone) You did. Don't make it again.
Johnny: It's starts already. (He hands back the casino key)
Mundson: What's this?
In another voice-over, Johnny reveals his deep-seated antagonism over the woman and the strain he feels with Mundson, wondering if their relationship is actually sexual:
It was all I could do to walk away. I wanted to go back up in that room and hit her. What scared me was, I-I wanted to hit him too. I wanted to go back and see them together with me not watching. I wanted to know.
In their bedroom, Gilda acts provocatively with her husband. In dialogue dripping with erotic innuendo, they discuss Johnny's entrance into their lives - Mundson's jealousy is immediately aroused:
Gilda: I can never get a zipper to close. Maybe that stands for something, what do you think?
Mundson: I think you were very rude to him.
Gilda: To whom?
Gilda: Was I? Oh, dear. That's one of the things you'll have to teach me, Ballin. Good manners.
Mundson: I want you to like him.
Gilda: You sure about that?
Mundson: What do you mean?
Gilda: He's a very attractive man, if you like the type.
Mundson: He's a boy.
Gilda: Boys have the darndest way of growing up, Ballin. Almost when you're not looking.
Mundson: But I'll be looking.
Later that evening, Mundson locates Johnny in the casino's lobby, worrying: "I was forced to leave Gilda alone while I looked for you, and Gilda is much too beautiful to be left alone." In the casino dining room before dinner, Mundson makes a toast "to the three of us," but Johnny gets "confused." He mentions that the third character that they had previously toasted before Gilda's appearance - Mundson's cane-dagger - has now been displaced by her.
Johnny: Well, just a few weeks ago, we drank a toast to the three of us.
Gilda: Well, who was the third one then? Should I be jealous?
Mundson: Hardly darling. Just a friend of mine.
Gilda: Is it a 'him' or a 'her'?
Mundson: That's a very interesting question. What do you think, Johnny?
Johnny: A 'her.'
Mundson: Why that conclusion?
Farrell explains how the dagger could be compared to a woman, deceitful in character: "Because it looks like one thing, and then right in front of your eyes, it becomes another thing." Mundson believes that due to Johnny's painful past experiences with women who have rejected him, he hasn't "much faith in the stability of women....One wonders who the woman was who brought our Johnny to this pretty pass, doesn't one, Gilda?" Gilda suggests a solution: "Let's hate her. Shall we, Ballin?" Johnny agrees to drink to Gilda's hate-filled proposal. She doesn't realize that she is serving herself up to be the object of a tension-filled, love-hate relationship between the two sexual rivals.
As it turns out, Gilda is Johnny's ex-lover and former flame and both are ex-patriate Americans. Johnny is antagonistic (and jealous) toward both Gilda AND Mundson because the humorless, controlling husband maintains Gilda as a kept-woman. Similarly, Johnny realizes that he is also being dominated by the casino owner, and was picked up - just like Gilda was:
Gilda: Now isn't this something? It's a small world in Argentina, isn't it?
Johnny: Isn't it? Why did you marry him?
Gilda: My husband's a very attractive man.
Johnny: You don't love him.
Gilda: What was that word again, Johnny?
Johnny: You married him for his money.
Gilda: That happened to come with it.
Johnny: Now, that's a great way to make a living.
Gilda: That wouldn't be the big pot calling the little kettle black, now would it?
Johnny: I was down and out. He picked me up. Put me on my feet.
Gilda: Now isn't that an amazing coincidence, Johnny. That's practically the story of my life.
Both Gilda and Johnny had no past and were "down and out," but began living after meeting Ballin. While Mundson attends to casino business, Gilda is offered a dance with an attentive Latin man. When the man pulls her close to him, she advises against it: "That's against our union rules." Johnny watches them with a tortured, stiff look from afar, and her dance partner reads Johnny's mood:
Gilda: (referring to Johnny) He's not my young man.
Dance Partner: You know, the expression on his face tells that he wishes he were.
When Mundson returns to the table, Johnny is ordered to stop his wife's provocative dancing and to prevent his boss' wife from engaging in blatant, flirtatious behavior in public. Johnny warns Gilda about her husband's presence - it one of the film's most-quoted lines:
Pardon me, but your husband is showing.
Aggressively, Johnny warns her about her questionable, recklessly amorous, trampy behavior:
Johnny: You can't talk to men down here the way you would at home. They don't understand it.
Gilda: Understand what?
Johnny: They think you mean it.
Gilda: Mean what?
Johnny: Doesn't it bother you at all that you're married?
Gilda: What I want to know is, does it bother you?