Friday, March 7, 2014

Classic Cinema Corner: On Gilda, and How Rita Hayworth Could Redeem Any Man's Shawshank (See What I Did There?)

Rita Hayworth once famously said, "Every man I have ever known has fallen in love with Gilda and awakened with me." For the life of me, I cannot figure out what could possibly be wrong about doing either one of those things, at any time, but hey, what do I know. Yeah, yeah, I get what Hayworth was trying to say - the whole 'nobody is as perfect as the characters on the screen' (she is also quoted as saying, "No one can be Gilda 24 hours a day.") - but even so, falling in love with a movie character, especially this particular movie character, is more than quite understandable, and waking up with Margarita Carmen Cansino, aka Rita Hayworth, aka The Love Goddess, would be a big ole 'must' on the fantasy to do list of any healthy patriotic red blooded American boy - and perhaps some red-blooded American girls too.

But we are not here to talk about inevitable red-blooded cinephiliac fantasies (though I must admit to having one hell of a hard time getting certain images out of my head as I type this), we are here to talk about Charles Vidor's 1946 noir/melodrama hybrid masterpiece Gilda, and how its star, in what has become, and rightfully so, known as her signature role, Rita Hayworth put the ooh into ooh la la. Sure, Hayworth made films prior to Gilda, and she was already thought of as a sexpot of the silver screen well before 1946 - just take a look at her roles in Blood and SandYou'll Never Get Rich and Cover Girl - and she was a already a pin-up favourite as well (second only to Betty Grable in the minds of WWII G.I.'s), but there is something about Gilda that just drives a man, not only to the brink of insanity, but right over the veritable edge. From Hayworth's introduction in the film, about a half hour in, as she tosses her head and mane of red (even in black and white) locks, and looks not into the camera, nor around it, but through the damned thing, to her show-stopping, half-striptease (just barely getting past the censors I am sure) rendition of "Put the Blame on Mame", the copper-topped bombshell is the very epitome of the kind of girl that no matter how hard you try - and co-star Glenn Ford does try his damnedest - you just know she is the one to whom you will eventually and quite inevitably give in and succumb.

As far as the film itself goes, it is quite the unique little nugget. Playing at several genres at once, Gilda is not quite all the way a film noir, nor is it fully a proper melodrama. It plays at thriller and musical too, but never fully falls prey to either of those categorizations either. Mostly, to avoid confusion I suppose, it is labeled as noir, but even though it does have many of the requisite qualities for such a classification, as I said earlier, it never goes all the way into that territory.  Perhaps the most obvious reason for its stopping short is the fact that Hayworth's supposed femme fatale, in many ways the quintessential of the breed, ends up being not all that fatale after all. Well, at least not in the way many of her ilk end up being. But this by no means is to infer that Gilda is not the kind of woman some hapless man would not kill, or even die for. Ford's Johnny Farrell just isn't as stupid as some of his fellow hapless male compatriots. But why quibble over technicalities? Let us just enjoy this magnificent film for what it is - a masterpiece. And this is a word I do not use lightly. And this is also all in spite of, to call a spade a spade, as it were, Charles Vidor being the kind of man who will never go down in history as a great director. An auteur for the ages he is not. The rest of Vidor's oeuvre, though some of it quite enjoyable (Love Me or Leave Me, The Joker is Wild, Cover Girl), leaves quite a bit to be desired. Gilda is his one and only truly great film, and even though it is filled with stunning cinematography, courtesy of Rudolph Maté (some of the best of the era actually, almost comparable to Orson Welles and Gregg Toland's work), it is great not because of Vidor (at least not fully), but because of...yeah, you guessed it - Miss Rita Hayworth.

I may sound like a broken record here, but there is no denying such obvious facts. Rita Hayworth not only breathed life into the tragic title character, but she stole that breath not just from all the men in her on-screen life, or even just those men in her off-screen life (which includes both Orson Welles and a real life prince), but also from all of those, myself whole-heartedly included, who have watched her up there on that aforementioned silver screen. Let's not put the blame on Mame boys, let's put it on Rita. She wasn't nicknamed The Love Goddess for nuthin' after all. Hell, even one of the many (many and many more) stories on how and when the libation known as the Margarita was invented, gives credit to Hayworth. Granted, the story of a bartender naming a drink after a certain young dancing girl down Mexico way, may very well be apocryphal - in fact it most certainly is just legend and nothing more - but that doesn't necessarily stop it from being quite believable. I mean, what man wouldn't want to name something, anything, after Rita Hayworth?  But I am getting off subject again. I am supposed be talking about Gilda, and about Rita Hayworth as Gilda, the gold digger with the heart of gold, but those dyed red locks (the genes of her Latin father actually gave her natural black hair) and that come-hither gaze she gives to both Glenn Ford and those of us watching her, tend to distract from whatever we may be discussing. But since we do not seem to be able to go on in a reasonable, undistracted way, about the film Gilda, I suppose we should just end it all right here and now. So please let me end on a quote from Rita herself, "All I wanted was just what everyone else wants, you know, to be loved."  You got it baby. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

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