Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Gilda" with Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford

I went Christmas shopping yesterday and, as usual, the first thing I bought was a gift for me. "Gilda" is probably the most famous of all Rita Hayworth's films. The story is tight, and Glenn Ford is at his best in this gritty tale of expatriated Americans living in South America at the end of the Second World War. Johnny, played by Glenn Ford, is a drifter and gambler. One night, in Buenos Aires, he wins too much money using loaded dice in a crap game, almost getting killed in the bargain. That's when he meets his benefactor, a vaguely European man by the name of Mundson, played by George Macready, who owns a gambling casino. He invites Johnny to come visit him there.

When Johnny goes to the club he once again tries "his own luck" at the tables, only to be roughed up after winning way too much money once more. Using his wits, he manages to land a job in the casino, which he eventually runs for Munsdon. When the boss leaves for business, Johnny is alone with the casino, realizing for the first time, that his life has taken a turn for the better. But not for long.

When Mundson returns he brings his new bride with him, Gilda, played by Rita Hayworth. This is a shock to Johnny for two reasons; first, he and Mundson have agreed that gambling and women don't mix; and secondly, Johnny and Gilda have been former lovers, apparently having split up in some disastrous fashion. Mundson is not fully aware of this, though he suspects that something lies behind the mutual dislike that these two people have for one another. It doesn't take long for the simmering tensions to come to a head, as the domineering Mundson seemingly takes pleasure in watching Johnny and Gilda in their discomfort.

Mundson has more than the casino to worry about. He has become involved in a cartel, one which controls tungsten, a necessary element in the production of steel. When he double crosses the cartel, he is forced to flee, faking his own death to do so. But he has left behind both the casino and Gilda, plus some unfinished business with Johnny. What happens next will change Johnny and Gilda's lives forever.

Deftly directed by Charles Vidor, based on a story by E.A. Ellington, this is one of those old black and white films which are worth staying up late at night to watch on TV. In addition to the great plot, and acting, Ms. Hayworth puts in some credible dancing during the nightclub scenes, particularly while singing "Put the Blame On Mame", the films signature torch song, which was written by Doris Fisher, and lyricist Allan Roberts. The vocals are not Ms. Hayworth, they are actually sung by Anita Kert Ellis, one of Hollywood's celebrated "ghost singers".

Ms. Hayworth performs this song twice in the film; once during the nightclub scene, and then again, after hours, strumming a guitar while sitting with one of the club's other employees. Here is that scene;

And this is the fully orchestrated nightclub version of the song;

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