(director: Charles Vidor; screenwriters: Marion Parsonnet/Jo Eisinger/from story by E.A. Ellington; cinematographer: Rudolph Maté; editor: Charles Nelson; cast: Rita Hayworth (Gilda Mundson), Glenn Ford (Johnny Farrell), George Macready (Ballin Mundson), Joseph Calleia (Obregon), Steve Geray (Uncle Pio, shoeshine man), Gerald Mohr (Capt. Delgado), Joe Sawyer (Casey), Lionel Royce (German Agent), Robert Scott (Gabe Evans), S.Z. Martel (Little Man); Runtime: 110; Columbia; 1946)
“This is sexpot Rita’s finest hour in films as an actress and chanteuse…”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A steamy noir for its time featuring the sultry, long-haired Rita Hayworth, the hard-boiled Glenn Ford, and the sinister George Macready. This is sexpot Rita’s finest hour in films as an actress and chanteuse, which enshrined her as the love goddess of the 1940s. The script has a field day with Freudian explanations and sexual innuendos dropped as easily as falling rain. Rita lays it on to Glenn how much he suffers from a fear of the female. This theme takes hold of this dark film and overshadows the milder intrigue about Macready, himself, a Nazi collaborator fronting for a Nazi-controlled tungsten cartel. A fascinating film for all the dark avenues it opened up sexually for future films. The film is all style and charismatic acting, and short on making too much sense.
Johnny Farrell (Ford) is a desperate adventurer, using loaded dice to beat some American sailors and locals in an Buenos Aires casino. After the game he is jumped by a thug about to clean him out but is saved by Ballin Mundson (Macready), who uses his dagger holding cane to fend him off. Johnny is the loyal sort and ends up working for Ballin in his casino as his manager, dedicating his life to being Ballin’s man Friday which is his way of paying him back.
Things are fine until Ballin returns from a business trip with a sexy young bride, Gilda (Rita). What Ballin doesn’t know but quickly senses is that Johnny and Gilda were once lovers, until the insecure Johnny walked out on her in a jealous rage. He shows a hatred for her, which both Ballin and Gilda can see through as a love he secretly harbors for her. Ballin is not only the possessive type, but he’s a dangerous hombre and threatens anybody who messes with his goods. The fun in the film comes from Rita realizing that both men look upon her as a sex object. She gets her kicks by taunting Johnny and acting like a loose woman by running after other men. Ballin assigns Johnny to watch her and make sure she behaves and he does it even if it gets under his skin that he’s the flunky always bringing her home to Ballin with an excuse for her whereabouts, which he does only because he fears what Ballin would do to her if he knew she was running around.
The police under Obregon (Calleia) keep a watch on the illegal casino, but do not close it down because they have bigger fish to fry. They know but can’t prove that Ballin made a secret deal with the Nazis to control the world’s tungsten production. So they are keeping an eye on things by watching the casino and therefore have no plans to close it until they get the info they want.
Since the Nazis are coming after him, Ballin plans to escape with Gilda; but, he spies her kissing Johnny and hears her mention that her husband is a lunatic. Ballin leaves without her and fakes a plane crash at sea, where there is a boat waiting to take him to safety when he bails out of the crashing plane. The police believe he’s dead, and in his will he leaves everything to Gilda and makes Johnny the executor of his will.
Johnny marries Gilda to punish her for cheating on his best friend. He is so overcome with rage and jealousy that he not only abandons her on their wedding night; but, he keeps her a virtual prisoner in Buenos Aires, having his security men follow her, preventing her from seeing other men and getting an annulment. In the most memorable scene Gilda performs in a nightclub, dressed in a tight-fitting black satin evening gown, and sings ‘Put the Blame on Mame.’ She suggests she’s doing a full striptease by removing a glove. This puts Johnny in a frenzy, but it was her only way of getting back at his misogynistic actions.
Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph. Skip if you don’t want to know how the story is resolved.
Ballin returns from the dead to kill them and reclaim his empire, but the philosophizing casino shoeshine man (Geray) picks up the weapon cane Ballin dropped and puts an end to him. By this time, Johnny realizes he loves her and they both realize they had been stinkers as they get back together.
Rita was simply stupendous and makes this slight B-film a memorable one. The film could be viewed as a study in the main characters’ pathologies, highlighted by the hinting of a quasi-gay relationship between Macready and Glenn. Glenn’s behavior is deviant whether it is when he is asexual or in the continual suppression of his sexual appetite after he realizes that Rita’s toying with him, even when realizing that he’s the one she really wants. Glenn’s behavior is so complex that his actions toward Gilda after they marry, seems to be best explained as a way he devised for punishing her for marrying and then for leaving Macready. There are no innocents, she married for money; Glenn went into a business arrangement for money without caring to know how evil his partner was; and, Macready used his money to greedily get what he wanted. This emotionally charged love triangle is better acted than its story sounds. It’s a studio film; its revealing carnival scene done indoors on the cheesy Hollywood set is, nevertheless, a splendid scene excitingly unmasking in a symbolic way the repressions of its male protagonist.
REVIEWED ON 12/1/2000 GRADE: B