“I would destroy myself to take you down with me”

Glenn Ford (this is the anonymous-looking 1940’s Glenn Ford, not the superior 1950’s version from the Fritz Lang movies) is a grifter turned semi-respectable once hired by illegal casino owner George Macready (Paths of Glory, The Big Clock) with the unlikely character name of Ballin Mundson. Buncha noir-lite character development and plot setup ensues, while I’m on seat’s edge waiting for someone – anyone – to ask Gilda if she’s decent, then finally it happens and the movie comes to life.

So I guess Glenn and Gilda dated for years before it all fell apart, and now Glenn’s hiding out in Buenos Aires and his boss goes on vacation and comes back married to Gilda. Because of this movie’s noir reputation I assumed there’d be some femme fatale reveal in which she’s plotting a convoluted revenge scenario, but nope, just a massive movie coincidence – not to say the movie isn’t still convoluted. Glenn and George take turns toying with Gilda and she marries Glenn after George fakes his own death via plane crash. George briefly returns, only to be dispatched by bathroom attendant “Uncle Pio” (actor Steven Geray was Hungarian but hey, any foreigner will do), and we get an anti-Casablanca ending as Glenn belatedly decides he still likes Gilda.

Gilda serenades Uncle Pio:

All this plot is diverting, but Rita Hayworth’s beauty and attitude are the main attraction. I wonder if Gilda’s the only 1940’s female character to marry two men, cheat on both of them repeatedly, and still get a happy ending. Her hit song from the movie “Put the Blame on Mame” (which was pried into the tagline for this movie, confusing those of us who’d never heard the song and thought it a stupid catchphrase) is about a hot-kissin’ hard-dancin’ woman, and Dave Kehr notes it “has been known to provoke impure thoughts”. Maybe Rita even charmed the censors… or maybe they demanded different kinds of changes. Buenos Aires is crowded with corrupt officials, murderous businessmen and sinister Germans – I can’t tell if the fact that nazis and their collaborators hid out in Argentina after WWII was well-known when this film was written. Of course nazis are never mentioned, and in typical Hollywood style, Mundson controls a “tungsten cartel” instead of anything unsavory.

Played the first Cannes Film Festival alongside Brief Encounter, Rome Open City, Notorious, The Lost Weekend and Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. I mainly knew this film as the inspiration for Laura Harring’s character’s name in Mulholland Dr and the excerpt in Shawshank Redemption. Vidor had recently made the not-as-good Rita movie Cover Girl. Shot by Rudoplh Maté (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Foreign Correspondent), one of his last before retiring.

Devil is a Woman masked carnival:

S. O’Malley:

Gilda is a pawn between two men who seem more interested in each other than her … There’s Ballin’s phallic cane/sword named his “little friend”; at one point, Ballin says, “Wait for me here, Johnny. I’ll need both my little friends tonight” … The ending, with Johnny and Gilda exiting together, is a holdover from the days of the cathartic “The End” of musicals, but it leaves an uneasy impression, similar to the final scene in Notorious. In neither ending does it feel like “love has triumphed.” It’s more like a criminal getaway.

A breakout role for Gene Kelly, who was starting to come into his own after the draft-dodging nonsense in For Me and My Gal. He runs a nightclub, is best friends with dancer Rusty (Rita Hayworth, before Gilda and Lady From Shanghai) and comedian Genius (Phil Silvers, TV’s Sgt. Bilko). Obviously Gene and Rita like each other, but Gene has to make the first move because it’s the 1940’s and he’s not good with feelings, so when she becomes a popular magazine cover girl, he lets her run off to a larger theater instead of asking her to stay.

Eve Arden, the best part of One Touch of Venus (she’s the poyle in the erster), plays the same sardonic type here, cutting through the music-fantasy atmosphere whenever she’s onscreen. She works with businessman Otto Kruger (High Noon, Power of the Press), who has movie-padding flashbacks to when he almost married Rita’s grandmother. Now Rita is being pushed to marry her new theater manager Lee Bowman (I Met Him In Paris, House by the River), and there’s kind of an interesting ending, as Kruger gets her to leave him for Gene, leaving Lee to a life of romantic regret identical to Kruger’s.

Not very memorable songs (the weird “Poor John” sung by flashback-Rita is all that comes to mind) but a decent movie. Nice man-vs-reflection street dance number for Gene. Weird trick-photography montage at the end with all the popular magazines’ latest cover girls (IMDB says one had already been in numerous movies, one was Harold Lloyd’s daughter, and another would marry Jean Negulesco). Leslie Brooks, also with Rita in You Were Never Lovelier, is good as her dancer-frenemy. And Genius, well, he’s grating and horrible as a comedian, but as a buddy of Gene and Rita, I eventually came around to him.

Sequel Xanadu came out almost 40 years later.