Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"I hate you so much, I think I'm going to die from it."

In the past few years, I've noticed that every cinephile, including myself, has a number of omissions, often embarrassing to the rabid movie goer in question, of films they'd always meant to see or should've seen, but, for whatever reason, had just never gotten around to. In a recent casual movie trivia contest, one friend admitted that he'd never seen The Blues Brothers (1980), so to help him cover his shame I replied that I'd only recent gotten around to seeing The Sting (1973).  So every now and again, when I think about it, I try to make a conscious effort to try and fill in some of these gaps.

You can never see them all, but you can always try to tick one or two more off the never ending checklist.

From the "Formerly Socially Acceptable" File
So I sat down with 1946's Gilda, starring Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, and George Macready. If memory serves, this was the first Rita Hayworth vehicle I've watched.  This forces me to admit that Orson Welles' The Lady from Shanghai is another of these gaps on my list. Ford I had just seen in Fritz Lang's excellent noir The Big Heat, which also starred a very young, and very vicious Lee Marvin as the lead villain. In fact, I had almost forgotten that Ford played a key part in one of my childhood favorites as Pa Kent in the first Christopher Reeve Superman (1978).  The distinctly voiced and distinctly scarred Macready is one of those character actors that even if you don't know him, you know him. Much like Peter Lorre or Erich Von Stroheim, Macready's villainous portrayals have somehow transcended into pop culture consciousness. The movie's director, Charles Vidor (née Károly Vidor), a Hungarian by birth, was yet another of the long list of European filmmakers who immigrated to Hollywood as the Nazis rose to eminence before the second World War.

"Hey, I didn't get a 'hubba hubba' out of that guy!"
The film's story is narrated by Johnny Farrell (Ford), a down on his luck gambler newly arrived in Argentina, who's saved from a mugging by the erudite Bailin Mundson (Macready). Johnny finds work at Mundson's illegal casino, rising through the ranks to quickly become the floor manager, but while he rules the casino, he's kept at arm's length from Mundson's other interests which involve a tungsten mine, some patents, and a shady group of Germans. When he's introduced to Mundson's wife, Gilda (Hayworth) it's all too apparent that Johnny and Gilda share a past that is tantalizingly kept in permanent secrecy. The heat gets turned up as Johnny's forced to babysit his former flame as she lives it up with a host of handsome suitors while her husband's nefarious interests go south. The cork is truly popped once Mundson is forced to flee the authorities, faking his own death, which leaves Gilda in control of his fortune and Johnny as the his executor of both his estate and his illicit affairs.

The alluring scent of cheeks...
Gilda is frequently considered a noir, and it is in ways. I found it had more in common with a movie like Casablanca (1942), wherein a seedy cast of characters make their way through a plot of entanglements, romantic and otherwise, in an exotic locale. In any event, it's an excellent potboiler wherein the danger and the emotions get cranked up step by step, and it becomes harder to tell whether the explosion's going to come from pent up emotions or from the pistols floating about. The film's only misstep is the lengthy loss of Mundson in the film's final third. The dynamic between the film's main trio is electrifying, and when Mundson's taken out of the plot, it also robs some of the fire in the love/hate inferno between Johnny and Gilda.

And, I must confess, despite Hayworth's absolute radiance and appeal, there were a few too many lengthy musical numbers toward the end that began to grate on me just a hair. (Though not nearly as much as Dino and Ricky Nelson's last minute musical entry at the end of Rio Bravo (1959).)

...v. the irresistible pull of the pin-stripe.
Nevertheless, Gilda creates one of those excellent fictional worlds that attracted me so deeply to film in the first place. The fact that the setting is Argentina is inconsequential. It could've been Morocco or Japan or anywhere on a globe. It's a movie world. The sets are striking. The clothing is sharp and sumptuous. And the dialogue can crack like a whip. It's an inviting and immersive world of classically styled romance and intrigue...with, yes, that old Hollywood hint of sexual aberration. It's one of those old, black & white movies that is perfect to win over people who hate old, black & white movies. Simply put, if you can't find something to enjoy about this movie, it suggests that there's more wrong with you than with this all too enjoyable film.

Stand out line: Johnny Farrel: "Statistics show that there are more women in the world than anything else...except insects."

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