Gilda: The Criterion Collection Review

A gleaming example of Hollywood Noir glamour, with Rita Hayworth in her defining role.

“Gilda, are you decent?” Rita Hayworth tosses her hair back and slyly responds, “Me?” in one of the great star entrances in movie history. Gilda, directed by Charles Vidor, features a sultry Hayworth in her most iconic role, as the much-lusted-after wife of a criminal kingpin (George Macready), as well as the former flame of his bitter henchman (Glenn Ford), and she drives them both mad with desire and jealousy. An ever-shifting battle of the sexes set on a Buenos Aires casino’s glittering floor and in its shadowy back rooms, Gilda is among the most sensual of all Hollywood noirs.

Gilda is a prime example of Film Noir, albeit with a small lean to melodrama; it’s a rather grim story about terrible people being a bit rubbish to one another, yet it’s glamorous and irresistible thanks to the kind of easy charm the Hollywood studio system could be so adept at delivering. That same system could be guilty of relying on routine and repetition. Indeed, take a sideways look at Gilda and there is little originality there. But it works, and brilliantly so, as if Orson Welles had remade Casablanca after watching Bacall and Bogart heat up the screen in To Have and Have Not. The story shares a theme with Casablanca, with Argentina now being the place that lost souls have ran away to and find themselves trapped and exploited, and the action taking place in an illegal casino to which the local law enforcement appear to turn a blind eye. Perhaps even Sam is represented by Steven Geray’s Uncle Pio.

Charles Vidor’s direction is the first thing that makes Gilda so special, his camera moving to perfectly complement Rudolph Maté’s gorgeous photography. Shadows and silhouettes are meat and potatoes to classic Noir, but even so it’s rare to see them employed to such effect as here. The composition of the simplest scenes can be breathtaking. Ford’s early scene cheating at Blackjack is beautifully filmed and that merely sets the mood. It isn’t hyperbole to consider the photography of Gilda in the same terms as Gregg Toland’s earlier work on Citizen Kane, or Robert Krasker’s on The Third Man.

Jo Eisinger and Marion Parsonnet’s screenplay is a delightful construction. A cruel and somewhat thin story, yet deviously ambitious and the rhythmic dialogue is as silky as Vidor’s camera, full of memorable lines. Interrupting a dance with “Pardon me, but your husband is showing” being just one highlight. Of course a screenplay is only as good as the delivery and Gilda has a superb cast. Glenn Ford would become one of Hollywood’s true greats, with quietly powerful, seemingly effortless performances in films like 3:10 to Yuma. Here he’s lightning in a bottle, creating and playing with tension throughout, especially in scenes with George Macready, who has Bond-villain like menace.

But if the film were purely about them it wouldn’t have been called “Gilda”. Rita Hayworth is intoxicating as the epitome of the Femme Fatale and everyone pales against her. Younger than Ford, yet seemingly older, she threatens to steal every scene she is in, from the very first flick of that hair. It is to Ford and Macready’s credit that Vidor can allow Hayworth to shine so very brightly and not topple the film. So seductive she could make Bacall gasp, Stephen King would be inspired (Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption) and so bad Jessica Rabbit would be drawn that way. Hair and costume (thanks to designer Jean Louis) are part of the spell, but would be nothing without her superbly timed performance. And that’s all before her breathtaking musical number, Put the Blame on Me. Films of this era always had one eye on commercialised all-rounder performances, sometimes to the detriment of the story. Hayworth’s skills as a singer and dancer allow them to segue effortlessly. They quite literally don’t make stars like Rita Hayworth anymore.

Gilda is a tough story, dripping with metaphor and resonance for the post-war years. It’s power remains undiminished. Towards the conclusion, the ambitious narrative becomes unwieldy as it wrestles with concluding its themes of gender, but between Vidor’s consummate direction and Ford and Hayworth’s chemistry, attention is held. Gilda is one of Hollywood and Film Noir’s more unusual champions.

Review continues below…

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Criterion’s transfer brings Vidor’s gorgeous film to life, making the most of his shadows and shallow depth of field. The camera slides from close to wide shots, from shadowy rooms to bright open sets, like the Casino. The generous and luminous contrast is consistent throughout, complimented by a lovely grain, though there is a sense this is stronger in the earlier scenes. There is only the slightest hint of defects overall.

Supplemental Features:

Commentary – With film critic Richard Schickel who discusses a great deal in the film, peppered with facts, but especially the sub-text that the real relationship is between Glenn Ford and George Macready. It’s a fascinating reading of the film, supported by Rita Hayworth not actually being sexualised, and that she effectively confuses what’s going on between the other two. He highlights lines of dialogue that support this. Makes for an intriguing listen.

Martin Scorcese and Baz Luhrmann 16m – Martin Scorcese discusses the history and impact of Gilda, Baz Luhrmann the border-town theme and the glamour. His enlightening comments about the visual language are particularly good. Nicole Kidman’s wigs in Moulin Rouge were modelled on Rita Hayworth’s hair and he demonstrates how time-consuming it must have been.

Hollywood and the Stars: “The Odyssey of Rita Hayworth” 25m – A TV episode from the 1960s looking at Rita Hayworth’s career. narrated by Joseph Cotten, though Hayworth herself talks us through much. It’s full of great clips.

Eddie Muller 22m – In this interview from 2015, Eddie extends on some of the themes Richard Schikel talked of in his commentary.

Order Gilda from one of these retailers£17.49£0.00£17.49New Release – Awaiting stock from supplier. Amazon UK£17.99£0.00£17.99In stock Zavvi£17.99£0.00£17.99Preorder now 

Jon Meakin

Updated: Jun 27, 2016

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Gilda: The Criterion Collection Review

A gleaming example of Hollywood Noir glamour, with Rita Hayworth in her defining role.

Gilda: The Criterion Collection Review | The Digital Fix