1946. Directed by Charles Vidor.
"I hate you so much that I would destroy myself to take you down with me."
Rita Hayworth's most iconic performance, Gilda is a film that oozes unrepentant sexuality. Featuring jaw dropping musical sequences and vicious conversational exchanges, Gilda is an atmospheric noir classic. Endlessly debated due to its convoluted treatment of feminism and sexual politics, Vidor's blazing melodrama is a fascinating deconstruction of female empowerment. .
Farell is a card shark who gains the loyalty of a deadly businessman. Soon after his employment, he crosses paths with the gangster's new wife, Gilda, an old flame. The two scorned lovers spend their time wounding one another whenever possible, denying their karmic attraction until it threatens to destroy everything and everyone around them. Once their feelings are consummated, archaic notions of manhood override passion, leading to a heart stopping conclusion where the heart's desire could be the couple's undoing.
The most intriguing aspect of Gilda is Hayworth and Glenn Ford's relationship. Using Jo Eisinger and Marion Parsonnet's script as a foundation, both performers step outside the confines of traditional banter and put the themes of love, hate, and loyalty to the test. Their romance is constantly shifting, with each partner playing victim and abuser as the wheel turns. While Ford's motivations stem from concepts of masculinity and honor, Hayworth assaults the social mores of femininity by making her own destiny and then rebelling against the consequences in an organic and genuinely heartbreaking manner. In an era where men dominated the action, Hayworth's turn blew the competition away with her honest depiction of poisoned love. Ford and Hayworth set the bar for sexual tension and the film's lack graphic, actual love scenes is a tribute to the power of their performances.
Jean Louis's peerless costume design wraps Gilda in glitzy armor, accentuating her persona with a take no shit aura that is palpable. The haunting Anita Ellis voices the singing performances, which are choreographed by Jack Cole, enhancing the lonely limelight theme that pervades throughout. Rudolph Mate's cinematography is a sleeper. The camera follows the action from a bystander perspective most of the time, only abandoning its voyeur approach when Hayworth enters the fray. Despite it's observer origins, Mate's compositions are full of life and danger, illuminating the present by alluding to the absent.
Available now for digital rental or on an immaculate blu ray by the Criterion Collection, Gilda will delight and arouse in equal amounts, while simultaneously eroding gender constructs. While there is nothing original about the plot, Hayworth's performance is worth the price of admission, delivering a scene stealing supernova that reminds you what the golden age was all about.