Saturday, April 4, 2009

Gilda (1946)

Gilda, like our other eponymous female in the series, Laura, is not the main character in her own story, pointing to the obsessive nature that she instills in the male characters in the film. Instead, our main character is Johnny (Glenn Ford), a down-on-his-luck gambler on his first night in Buenos Aires. When Johnny bilks some American sailors with loaded dice, he gets held up with a gun. Along comes the dapper Ballin Mundson (George Macready), quick with his wit and his stiletto-loaded cane. When Johnny finds out who Ballin is (the owner of a high-class gambling establisment), he sees an opportunity and becomes Ballin's right-hand man, overseeing operations and supplying security. They pledge fealty to each other, claiming that "gambling and dames don't mix."

That is, until Ballin returns from vacation with a new wife, Gilda (Rita Hayworth), who just happens to be Johnny's former lover. Gilda, distraught over being rejected by Johnny, married Ballin on the rebound and uses the relationship to taunt Johnny, who has been ordered to keep an eye on her. They irritate each other, their love-turned-to-hate building to a passion that neither can deny.

GILDA is easily the most overtly erotic film in the series. The way that Hayworth is dressed, posed and made up provides all the senuality we need to see into Johnny's vision of her. But add the biting, suggestive dialogue that she uses to taunt Johnny, it builds the tension to levels that can do nothing other than explode.

We have another film told with voice-over, which suggests a foreknowledge of events, which suggests again the fatalism of the story and the dream-like aspects of memory. Additionally, there is the Kafka-esque strangeness of happenstance that also feeds into the fatalist mentality. There are some things that you just cannot run from, no matter how hard you try. The first shot of the film pans up from beneath the ground, suggesting that something buried is about to rise.

The three main characters are a triumvirate of ambivalence, alternately committed to, suspicious of, and hateful of, the others in the triangle at one time or another. Their complex feelings toward each other create a flux of motivations that adds density to the relationships and unpreditability to the narrative. And although the characters rarely get physical with one another, the emotional cruelty of their constant maneuvering stands out.

What is lacking from this noir is the crime factor. Yes, crime is all around the plot. There are payoffs, illegal cartels, betrayal of country, a cop that sets up shop at the casino, not to mention a few murders. But it is not crime that drives the plot. It is the descent into a man's obsessive desires that is the focus of the film. This is certainly a dark subject, as are the lengths he goes to to extinguish those desires, but its lack of a central crime marks this a different experience from the other films.

Next time: The Lady in the Lake

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