Well, Gilda (1946) is one of the Glenn Ford films TCM showcased this week. So obviously it’s the one I chose to write about!
I’ve seen this classic film noir before, but it’s been a long time! And truthfully, I only ever really notice/care about the fabulously stunning Rita Hayworth when I watch Gilda, so it was really interesting to view it with the purpose of appreciating Glenn Ford. I wasn’t always successful at keeping my eyes on Ford when he shared a scene with Rita. Ok, I was basically unsuccessful most of the time when they were on camera together! Can’t help it, Rita is just that magnetic and charismatic. But I did do a pretty good job at keeping Ford in my periphery when he was with Rita, and when Rita was not in the picture, I really did focus on Glenn, I promise!
If you missed Gilda on Monday, you can watch it online through your cable provider on TCM’s website through Sunday, or you can find it here!
Gilda: The Plot
Gilda is set in Buenos Aires. Glenn Ford plays Johnny Farrell, an American gambler/hooligan who is still a likeable guy. Johnny wins big cheating at craps one night, and is saved from a mugging on his way home when a mysterious German stranger, Ballin Mundson (George Macready), comes to Johnny’s assistance with his super cool cane-knife thing—literally a cane with a knife that comes out the bottom. Seriously, you don’t want to be on this guy’s bad side!
Ballin and Johnny basically become best friends on the spot, and soon Johnny is working at Ballin’s high-end casino as a bouncer/bodyguard. Since Ballin is kind of insane and has a whole bunch of really shady business dealings, he needs guys around that he can trust. And Ballin trusts Johnny.
One day after a business trip, Ballin comes back to Buenos Aires with a new bride. And wouldn’t you know it, his new wife is Gilda—played by the seductive Rita Hayworth—who happens to be Johnny’s former flame. We soon realize from the sizzling verbal exchanges and obvious physical attraction between Johnny and Gilda that they totally used to be in love and still totally have the hots for each other. We learn a little later that the relationship ended when Johnny thought Gilda had been unfaithful to him, and walked out on her. On the rebound from Johnny, Gilda married Ballin.
As you can imagine, a love triangle develops, and it’s a real love-hate relationship between all three of them. Ballin can sense that Gilda and Johnny…more than like each other…and he seems to get some weird enjoyment from testing their loyalty to him by putting them alone together in tempting situations.
Hate vs. Love
And with Johnny and Gilda, well, sometimes it’s hard to tell which is stronger: their love for each other, or their hate for each other. As Gilda and Ballin both say at various points in the film,
“Hate can be a very exciting emotion.”
And Gilda director Charles Vidor does everything he can to drive that point home! Does the creepy Ballin plan to destroy Johnny and Gilda? Will he use his fancy cane-knife on them???? Do Johnny and Gilda end up together? Which is stronger, love or hate? Watch the film to find out!
“I Became a Star when I Slapped Rita Hayworth.”
Exciting stuff, right?? As I mentioned in my intro post to Glenn last week, Gilda was basically the film that put him on the map. Hollywood “discovered” Glenn after Gilda. Or really, Hollywood rediscovered Glenn after Gilda. Remember, Ford had been making films for eight years before his turn as Johnny Farrell. Putting his career on hold to serve in World War II had postponed Glenn’s ascent to stardom, but in 1946, with the success of Gilda with Rita Hayworth, and then A Stolen Life with Bette Davis, Glenn officially became a star. Glenn himself once said about Gilda and the boost it was to his career,
“I became a star when I slapped Rita Hayworth.”
Yes, he slaps her across the face in one of the more tempestuous scenes in the film!
Ford’s New Tough-Guy Image in Gilda
Glenn’s new image—he was more mature, masculine, muscular, and rough in Gilda than he had been in his pre-WWII films—was so popular with female viewers that Glenn was voted “Man of the Year” in 1946 by The Bobby Soxers of America. Meaning teenage girls, and really women in general, thought Glenn was hot. (Previous winners included Frank Sinatra!)
I think Glenn does a fine job in the film. But he doesn’t have the natural coolness that other male stars of the era who rocked the film noir genre had. Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Edward G. Robinson, Clark Gable (ok, Gable didn’t really do film noir, but the guy was cool!), these guys just had a complete naturalness and believability in tough guy roles that, to me, is just a tad forced with Glenn Ford. There are times in Gilda where it kind of feels like Glenn is posing, trying a little too hard to be tough and cool.
That being said, there are plenty of times when Glenn’s mannerisms and line delivery are bad-boy perfection. Such as:
“Statistics show there are more women in the world than anything else—except insects.”
Boy does he nail that callous remark! Glenn is perfectly tease-y and snarky in tone, cadence, and expression here. A great scene in the film.
The Hayworth/Ford Chemistry
Anyone who’s seen Gilda knows that the chemistry between Rita and Glenn is electric! It’s a far cry from their pairing a few years earlier in The Lady in Question (1940), when the two actors were so stiff, director Charles Vidor had to loosen them up with double martinis before their love scenes!
Vidor also directed Glenn and Rita in Gilda. But on this film, double martinis were not necessary. Glenn and Rita were more experienced actors by 1946, and on top of that, they were already comfortable with each other because of their previous work together. As Glenn said about reuniting with Rita on Gilda,
“We just got along so well and became the closest friends right away. We were both fairly new parents—her daughter, Rebecca, was only two months older than my son—so we had a lot of the same problems and joys, and we each did a lot of bragging about our kids. We traded complaints about Harry Cohn [Columbia studio head]. I would tease her about her new sexpot image. We had a lot of laughs.”
Peter Ford shares in his book on his father that life soon imitated art, and it was while making Gilda that his father and Rita first became…more than just friends. Glenn and Rita would be physically intimate on and off over the years, but their friendship would remain constant until Rita’s passing in 1987.
Gilda: "A Happy Miracle"
Gilda was a huge success, earning $3.75 million at the box office when it was released in the spring of 1946. To put that in perspective, the cost of a movie ticket at the time was just over 50 cents, so YEAH, Gilda was a smash hit. !!!!!!
But according to Peter Ford, though the cast and crew had a feeling Gilda was a winner during production,
“Like some of Hollywood’s best remembered films, Gilda was a kind of happy miracle, a film in part made up as they went along. As in the making of Casablanca, there was sometimes no idea where the story might go on a given morning…Virginia Van Upp’s [producer and screenwriter] continuing rewrites and new pages often delivered only hours before filming forced the actors to stay spontaneous and fresh.”
WOW! Guess it just goes to show what intuition, spontaneity, and a talented cast and crew can do.
I think it’s also interesting to note that Gilda is explicitly passionate, sensual, violent, dark, and redeeming without actually showing or using any nudity, blood, or profanity.
Crazy how that works, isn’t it? Because of Hollywood’s strict moral code as to what could be shown on film at the time, filmmakers had to be more creative in how they portrayed intimate human emotions and relations on screen. As a result, intelligent, artistic, and highly innovative films were made. In Gilda, director Charles Vidor couldn’t just throw in a gratuitous sex scene to tell us Johnny and Gilda are nuts about each other. Vidor shows us by creating ever-building tension through heated dialogue, looks of longing, low-key lighting, and shadows. If that’s not art, I don’t know what is!
Did any of you catch Gilda? Was it your first time seeing this classic, or your one-hundredth time? I’d love to know your thoughts on this pioneering film noir! (:
And don’t forget to check out the TCM film schedule for showtimes for next week’s Glenn Ford films!