Film Noir is perhaps an overused description of a type and genre of film, but I am not going to hesitate to use it once again in reference to this one, as it is one of the best examples. Primarily a vehicle for Rita Hayworth to star in, and for us to watch her being Rita in, this has all the hallmarks of the kind of seductive thriller that draws me in every time. I wasn’t even born in 1946, but I have vivid memories of seeing this film when still quite young, and I must have watched it at least four times since.
Set in – supposedly exotic – Buenos Aires, we get narration (very popular in the genre) from criminal Johnny, (Glenn Ford) telling us how he happened across the seductive Gilda. He is pretty small-time, and is taken under the wing of Mundson, a casino owner that he has tried to cheat and rob. Mundson (a suitably oily George Macready) gives him a job, and Johnny hangs around the casino looking mean and moody. So far, not much going on, I agree.
But then Mundson returns from a trip with his new wife, the stunning Gilda. (Hayworth) The action picks up when we discover that Johnny and Gilda were once lovers, in a relationship that ended badly. As viewers, we are left unsure whether the manipulative Mundson knows the truth, and he gives Johnny the job of watching his new wife, making things even more difficult for both of them. Meanwhile, the sub-plot kicks in, with Germans arriving to do a shady deal with Mundson, concerning metals and minerals in South America. Just after the end of WW2, the presence of a couple of starchy Germans suggests some ex-Nazi double-dealing from the start.
Meanwhile, Gilda performs in the nightclub owned by her husband. Dressed provocatively, flirting with lots of men, and driving Johnny wild with desire. (Worth noting that despite Hayworth’s mane of signature red hair, and all the colourful dresses, this is a black and white film, so we have to imagine the attraction of both) Naturally, the pair eventually embrace, and realise they still love each other. Then an Argentine policeman approaches Johnny, asking him to get information on his boss, who is of great interest to them. Whether he knows about the lovers, or fears discovery, Mundson flies off in a plane, faking his death when it explodes.
Then the film takes a strange turn. Johnny and Gilda marry, believing her husband to be dead. They get a big inheritance from Mundson’s estate, which makes them rich. But Johnny is unhappy, troubled by guilt, and seemingly only interested in getting revenge on Gilda for past indiscretions. He has her followed and watched, and uses his new wealth and power to keep her under control. The police contact, Obregon, intervenes, persuading Johnny that Gilda is true to him, and suggesting a reconciliation. Now comes the ‘big reveal’. Mundson shows up, to the great surprise of all the characters. He produces a gun, and determines to kill both Johnny and Gilda. They are saved by the loyal old toilet attendant, Uncle Pio, who fatally stabs Mundson.
When Obregon arrives to investigate the death, Johnny is keen to take the blame, to avoid suspicion of Uncle Pio, or Gilda. But the policeman lets them all go, telling them that as far as he is concerned, Mundson was already dead. Despite all the preceding drama, the lovers are reconciled, in a happy ending.
This film is really all about Rita Hayworth. She looks sublime, flawless in fact, and she acts everyone else off the screen, despite their best efforts. We can all see why no man can resist her, as we know we wouldn’t be able to either. She appears in a variety of sumptuous outfits, and even performs the classic number “Put The Blame On Mame” on the nightclub stage. That alone is worth watching the film for. Forget the plot, ignore the story, and just revel in Rita.
That’s what I do, every time.