All That Gildas Is Gold
The name does not register with most, but perfectionist choreographer and very occasional actor-dancer Jack Cole shaped theatrical jazz dance, that is, the rhythmic super-energy of stage and cinema dance. Some but not all of the 1940s-‘50s films he worked on, at times uncredited, are forgettable except for the dance numbers he directed and the once and future stars he coached and coaxed --Betty Grable, Mitzi Gaynor, neophyte hoofers Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe, and, having been at thirteen her father’s partner in the Dancing Cansinos, Rita Hayworth. Eighteen such works make up the Museum of Modern Art’s “All That Jack (Cole).” Ironically, though easily among the most famous, Gilda is a non-musical noir, Hayworth’s two numbers coming nearly at the end, over her objections her singing dubbed (Anita Ellis).
But “Put the Blame on Mame” is one of those iconic moments audiences wait for. Charles Vidor’s otherwise unexceptional hundred ten minutes was enthusiastically introduced by L.A. dance critic and series co-curator Debra Levine, who pointed out that it was one of four Cole-Hayworth collaborations, that the ultra-famous peeling off of one long glove -- “I’m not very good at zippers”-- is what ladies of the trade call “removing the condom,” and that the star’s dyed auburn hair was so spectacular and caressed throughout that Cole for once did not insist on a headdress.
Notorious for quickie falling in and out of love, she had just given birth to her and second husband Orson Welles’s daughter Rebecca and so wore a corset for the filming. The marriage was already doomed, and this was Columbia’s gamble to install her once again as the screen siren of the era, which it did along with prompting her lament that “men went to bed with Gilda and awakened with me. . . . No one can be Gilda twenty-four hours a day.”
Studio big and producer Virginia Van Upp probably doctored much of the final script but left the setting as Argentina, a haven for Nazis. Beyond that, there is no feel at all for Buenos Aires, or late seconds of Montevideo, in the confused plot of an upscale nightspot and illegal but winked-upon casino fronting for German dealings in World War II. There is a joyous V-E Day celebration, but also a corresponding sort of double cross involving ownership certificates, mineral rights and world mastery.
In this his second movie (of five) opposite his costar, Glenn Ford also narrates as no-count gambler Johnny Farrell, rescued dockside from a difficult situation by dapper Ballin Mundson (George Macready) and the sword inside his cane. Icy, elegant, his scarred cheek (from an auto accident) suggestive of European dueling societies, the suave “foreigner” has what his voice caresses as three “little friends”: that sword-cane, Johnny and Gilda, the bought bride he surprisingly brings back and loves, he says, to distraction.
The small timer wanders into his savior’s casino, wins big at vingt-et-un (French for 21), displays prowess in overcoming “messenger” goons, and immediately is invested as the boss’ right-hand man, confidant and executor. Why he is so trusted, so quickly, is not apparent -- a film flaw, perhaps, or, as some see it, a concession to 1946 mores to mask a homosexual relationship, double entendred in such lines as “You’ve no idea how faithful and obedient I can be.” (Cole, incidentally, was gay.)
Johnny has a key to the master’s master bedroom and does obviously have a past in which Gilda figured. Both these younger characters spar with barbed words and claim to hate one another to pieces. Unrealistically the older husband all but forces the two together, in effect forging an unconsummated ménage à trois, yet is later surprised at the others’ behavior.
Flip but accurate impious commentary from comic relief washroom attendant Uncle Pio (Steven Geray) goes unheeded, Nazi agents drop in demanding their share, a suicide is awkwardly staged, a second marriage solemnized in revenge and as security, and all is resolved, happily so, with absurd brevity.
Entered two years ago in the Library of Congress National Film Registry, Gilda is memorable for the minutes of one dubbed song, one dance. But, ah! that one sexually confident shimmy is enough.
(Released by Columbia; not rated by MPAA.)