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Passion On The Dancefloor
on 28 June 2016
In a role which pretty much defined the cinematic incarnation of the 'femme fatale’, Rita Hayworth’s eponymous hedonistic woman scorned simply dominates the screen in Charles Vidor’s 1946 film. Even if Gilda’s plot is a little over-extended and convoluted (with more than its fair share of MacGuffins) for its own good, Vidor’s film compensates for this by virtue of its being one of the most stylish and sumptuous visual cinematic experiences of the era. And, even though the film-noir elements are rather toned down in comparison with the more hard-boiled noirs, Rudolph Maté’s evocative black-and-white cinematography is frequently stunning, with marvellous use of framing, shadows and silhouettes, heightening the film’s alluring sense of mystery.
The film’s 'exotic' (here, South America) setting, WW2 backdrop and ‘espionage’ plot shenanigans called to my mind the likes of Casablanca and Hitchcock’s Notorious, but it is the passion and obsessive love permeating Gilda’s central trio of protagonists that constitute the film’s defining and most enthralling features. Hayworth is sultry sexuality personified ('Sure, I’m decent’), Maté’s soft-focus camera hardly letting the star out of its sights as she cavorts repeatedly across the dancefloor, a fetishist’s delight, wearing facemask and sporting a whip(!), interspersed with the odd phallic cigarette in between quipped innuendo after innuendo (courtesy of Jo Eisinger’s sharp script). Glenn Ford does a fine job as Gilda’s ex, Johnny Farrell, (their past skilfully hinted at via script metaphors), 'professional’ gambler, apparently cocksure of himself but still obsessed, whilst George Macready’s wealthy 'megalomaniac’ husband to Gilda, Ballin Mundson, provides a degree of calming influence, even if shot through with jealousy and obsession. Vidor’s central trio is outstanding and gives us plenty of volts of screen electricity. Elsewhere, outside of the film’s fanciful sub-plot around Munson’s aim of letting 'a man rule the world’ by cornering the tungsten market(!), necessitating suspicious Germans sneaking hither and thither, the other particularly notable contribution is that of Steven Geray’s marvellous turn as the washroom man and armchair philosopher, Uncle Pio, whose scene brandishing bull and clown ‘masks’ and suggesting that Farrell is morphing from one to the other is a highlight.
Vidor’s film will always, rightly, be enshrined in cinema history as a result of Hayworth’s on-screen depiction and performance, as well as providing a notable addition to the film noir genre.