There are some movies that are so sexy and sizzle no matter how often you see them, and Charles Vidor's 1946 classic Gilda is definitely one. Film noir is already a favorite genre of mine, but the characters in Gilda are so taut with tension and visuals so rich that there's something exceptional to experience each and every time. Let's start with the obvious reason why: Rita Hayworth. Rita was--and still is--a woman who makes mere mortals swoon and this role of a femme fatale seems custom-made for her. Though she had crept into our consciousness in Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings (1939) and established her dancing in movies like You Were Never Lovelier (1942) with Fred Astaire and Cover Girl (1944) with Gene Kelly, it was Gilda that secured Rita's star in the heavens.
Rita was always talented, but it took some confidence-building and other changes over the years to bring out what was naturally in her genes. Born Margarita Cansino, her mother Volga was a Ziegfeld Girl and her father Eduardo owned a dancing studio where he taught the likes of James Cagney and Jean Harlow. Though Rita danced from a very early age, she was not immediately loved on screen. In fact, she was so lackluster that Fox decided to drop her after only a few pictures. Her first husband (there were five, including Orson Welles) encouraged painful electrolysis to change her hairline and hair color to change her image. And change it did--that long red hair soon became a signature, in a style that seems influenced by Veronica Lake before her. Thus "Rita Cansino" came back as "Rita Hayworth" and was signed to a contract with Columbia Pictures.
There were several planets in alignment with the making of Gilda and its team could not have been stronger. Two of its great talents were the cinematographer and costume designer--Rudolph Mate and Jean Louis. These men more than any other are what allowed Rita to shine so bright. Rudolph Mate is a star in film noir, known for his lush and beautiful cinematography both in and out of the genre. The look of Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940), Orson Welles' The Lady from Shanghai (1947, again starring Rita), and Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be (1942) are also due to his work. He even directed some of the best in film noir, including the classic D.O.A. (1950). There is a depth to Mate's black and white that is unmatched by most in film, and for this reason he is one of my favorite cinematographers. He's perfectly partnered on Gilda with director Vidor, whose unique framing often reminds me of George Stevens in later movies like A Place in the Sun (1951).
Costume designer Jean Louis was extraordinary as well. He was responsible for several of my favorite wardrobes on film, including Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959) and Lana Turner in Imitation of Life (1959). Louis came from a fashion background, beginning his career at two of the best couturiers--Drecol and Hattie Carnegie. He was so talented that he even had a successful fashion line of his own starting in the late 1960s. Like Kalloch before him, Louis brought an elegance to Columbia that improved the image of the studio that started as "Poverty Row." Even in the fabric-rationed 1940s, Louis' costumes were glamorous. Gilda included smart suits, of course, but is even better known for gorgeous gowns whose body conscious fits flattered Rita's 5'6" figure. You'll also notice that elements of the wardrobe even share a bit about the characters and inform some of the story, which is the mark of a really gifted costume designer. This film is one of The Style Essentials on GlamAmor for the ongoing influence of its costume design--for one, Rita's show-stopping black strapless "Put the Blame on Mame" gown is so iconic that it continues to inspire fashion today.
With all these talents coming together to create this character, it's no wonder that Gilda became a woman that every man wanted to love. As a result, Rita became one of the top glamour girls and pin-ups of the 1940s, beloved by service men all over the world. Glenn Ford also confessed his own affection years later, which explains why their on-screen chemistry was so strong. But Rita understood all the pieces that had to be put together to make Gilda possible, and precious few had to do with the real Margarita Cansino. She once famously said, "Men fell in love with Gilda, but they wake up with me." That may be true, but I, for one, can't imagine that anyone was complaining.
One of the best movie introductions in history with just a flip of her hair.
"Gilda...are you decent?" asks Ballin Mundson (George Macready, right above).
Former lovers Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) and Gilda, now Mrs. Ballin Mundson, meet...
...and the scheming begins in a seemingly innocent belted silk chiffon gown
The next gown is not so innocent...strong 40s shoulders, sequins top to toe, and slinky and sexy as hell
Gilda flaunts her new-found wealth to Johnny--a 50,000 peso piece of jewelry that she thinks is "cute"
Dancing with a stranger to stir up jealousy...not in her husband, but in Johnny
Vidor constantly shoots Johnny and Gilda as close as can be,
even when they're sitting at a table with Ballin
A zipper's not the only thing that's tricky in Gilda's life...
Ballin could feel the heat of hatred in the evening and warns Gilda not to make a mistake
Gilda, a great believer in luck, tries hers at the casino tables
Incredible draping in this grecian gown with beading at the waist matched by her bracelet
Gilda's beaded jacket (over the grecian gown) is as much as a knock-out as her date from the casino
Another grecian-inspired dress as Gilda sings "Put the Blame on Mame" for the first time
Look at the studded belt and matching cuff that go with the cover-up dress--
perfectly on trend for today and suggest Gilda as a warrior in this psychological battle
Vidor shoots Ballin in interesting ways throughout the movie--often without his head showing (above)
or fully dark in silhouette that speaks to the ominous threat he imposes
Gilda getting ready to don her costume for carnival
Even Ballin points out that Gilda is "armed" with her whip,
ever ready for battle with Johnny even in costume
Johnny is tortured both by Ballin's orders to take care of Gilda
and Gilda making mischief with every man she meets
The energy and anticipation from carnival is too much for the former lovers...
...and they find themselves locked in a kiss
(notice how Vidor keeps the wedding ring front and center in the shot)
Ballin bursts in on the couple and runs for a plane that crashes into the sea
With Ballin's death, the couple is now free to marry
The choice of a black satin suit is an interesting choice and foreshadows what's to come...
still angry at Gilda, Johnny has set a trap that she cannot free herself from
Once trapped to live a loveless existence, Gilda tries to turn to others...
going out night after night in several strapless gowns
Gilda runs to Montevideo to try and escape,
signing on as a showgirl performing "Amado Mio"in a two-piece (and backless) white beaded gown
Gilda mistakenly tries to trust another man, who ends up bringing her right back to Johnny
In a classic 40s pinstripe suit to fight with Johnny Farrell
At her desperate breaking point, Gilda performs "Put the Blame on Mame" again
in Jean Louis' iconic black strapless satin gown that seems to defy gravity
Feeling like a kept whore, Gilda performs her version of a striptease to show the world what she's become
After such an exhibition, Johnny and Gilda finally come together and speak heart to heart
But someone sinister appears in the midst of it all...Ballin
The final fight at the casino and the lovers are left in peace