Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Gilda (1946) at the Noir City Film Festival

It's been less than two weeks, but opening night of the 22nd Annual Noir City Film Festival now seems a world away.

Just days later, after I spent an evening watching Victor Mature and Diana Dors in THE LONG HAUL (1957), the festival was abruptly cancelled, along with just about everything else in the world. Since then we've all been processing a lot of news and significant changes in our lives, which will hopefully be temporary.

Although movie theaters throughout the country are now closed, films continue to provide a source of solace, as they have for over a century. I anticipate watching and writing about a number of movies over the next couple of weeks or more.

I'll start off by wrapping up my coverage of Noir City's opening night movies. The double bill paired two films set in Argentina, THE BEAST MUST DIE (1952) and GILDA (1946).

While the first film of the evening, THE BEAST MUST DIE, was a Spanish-language film actually made in Argentina, the next film, GILDA, was pure '40s Hollywood, from Columbia Pictures.

I was fortunate to see GILDA in 35mm at the Vagabond Theater in the late '70s; some of my happiest childhood classic film memories, in fact, are of seeing Rita Hayworth movies on the big screen. It's possible I even saw GILDA in nitrate, as years later I realized there was a reason so many black and white films seen at the Vagabond sparkled in my memories; in that time frame the Vagabond was still screening nitrate.

While I've seen GILDA at home in the years since, Noir City was my first opportunity to see it on a big screen in roughly four decades. Although Noir City screens many films in 35mm, GILDA was shown in a DCP format; I'm pleased to say it looked wonderful.

For me GILDA is a great example of style over story; the plot gets a bit muddled over the course of 110 minutes, but oh, what style!

Glenn Ford plays Johnny Farrell, a ne'er-do-well gambler who finagles a job as manager of a luxe Buenos Aires casino owned by Ballin Mundson (George Macready). When Mundson comes back from a trip with a glamorous new wife, Gilda (Hayworth), she and Johnny obviously recognize each other.

The plot gets murky when Germans show up at the casino wanting back some of the riches they had put in Mundson's name for safekeeping during the war. A detective (Joseph Calleia) is also hanging around the casino watching matters with interest.

Things really get complicated when Mundson kills one of the Germans, after which he goes home and overhears Johnny and Gilda admitting passionate feelings for one another...Mundson then dashes off to a plane, which plummets into the ocean. But there's still so much story left...

Despite its complicated plot, the movie is really more about the twisted triangle of relationships among the three leads. Gilda and Johnny constantly strike sparks, perhaps hating each other even more than they feel love or desire. In this and other ways, the film is not too dissimilar from Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS (1946), released just months later, with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman alternating between love and hate while she's married to a man who's part of a South American ring of Nazis. I wonder if audiences of the day picked up on the similarities, watching the films so close together in time.

There's also a notable edge to the relationship between Johnny and Mundson; though Johnny tries to hide it, each man is vying for Gilda's love, but the tension between the men seems to go deeper. Macready was so often a very creepy performer that sometimes it's almost difficult to watch him. (SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964) being a good exception.) Here, though, that "off" vibe fits the film perfectly as he attempts to control both Johnny and Gilda.

In the end the movie is all about the weird dynamics between these characters, conveyed with shimmering star power. Hayworth and Ford, frequent costars who had a close relationship in real life, are gorgeous and have explosive chemistry.

That said, the very best thing about the movie is one of the truly great stars of the '40s, Rita Hayworth. Her hair-tossing entrance is so striking that it randomly made me think of John Wayne's star-making entrance in STAGECOACH (1939). Rita was already a star at the time she made GILDA, but that entrance scene, quite a ways into the movie, announces that the film's star has truly arrived.

Seeing Rita perform "Put the Blame on Mame" for the first time in years blew me away; it's easy to see why Rita was a superstar. I generally never, ever talk at the movies but when it was done I couldn't help whispering to my husband "She's amazing!" What a performer.

GILDA was directed by Charles Vidor and filmed in gorgeous black and white by future director Rudolph Mate.

GILDA is available on Blu-ray or DVD from the Criterion Collection. It's also been released on DVD as a single title or as part of the Films of Rita Hayworth DVD collection.

Finally, it also had a 1994 release on VHS in the Columbia Classics line.

Coming soon: My final review from the unexpectedly truncated Noir City festival, Robert Siodmak's very interesting THE DEVIL STRIKES AT NIGHT (1957). It was part of a Siodmak double bill seen on Sunday, March 8th, along with his very entertaining "B" film FLY-BY-NIGHT (1942).


Blogger Vienna said...

Rita is amazing as Gilda. Just a pity she didn’t have the singing voice to complete her magic, but her dubbers, all great singers , made you feel Rita was singing.
Hope you and your family are well in these historic times.

2:15 AM  
Blogger Silver Screenings said...

Oh wow, I would love LOVE to see Gilda on the big screen. I watched Rita H. in Cover Girl the other night and was reminded of how luminous she is on camera. Maybe one day, when everything settles down, there will be the opportunity to see it in a theatre.

Until then, I hope all is well with you and your family. Be safe!

12:45 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you both so much for stopping by! Always love to hear from fellow fans of Rita.

Vienna, I agree, Rita worked with excellent dubbers. I particularly liked Nan Wynn singing for her in YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942), such a good match I tend to forget it's not Rita!

I hope you can each see this on a big screen one day.

Thank you so much for the good wishes, and the same to you and yours!

Best wishes,

11:39 PM  

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