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Rita Hayworth’s Gilda is arguably the most fascinating of classic Hollywood’s bad girls. Everyone’s seen the timeless ‘Put the Blame on Mame’ clip of her knockout nightclub routine in a slinky black strapless number, but knowing the dramatic context gives the full effect – here’s a woman turning herself into an erotic spectacle as an act of vengeance against her man, a gesture of defiance in which her own vulnerability is also writ large.

When the film was released in 1946, striking redhead Hayworth had already starred in a series of musicals that made her America’s pin-up, yet here she delivers the same va-voom (in sundry shoulderpad-tastic Jean Louis outfits) while always hinting at the anxieties beneath the ‘love goddess’ surface. It was the defining role of her career, yet it says a lot about the rest of the movie that Hayworth’s fire never overwhelms it.

There’s an element of ‘Casablanca’ exoticism in the Buenos Aires setting, where moody leading man Glenn Ford plays a drifter taken under the wing of casino owner George Macready – a silky-voiced character actor who always brought an element of sexual ambiguity to the screen. When the latter marries Hayworth on the spur of the moment, Ford bristles because he has previous with this femme fatale and is still feeling it. ‘Hate,’ as the pearly dialogue has it, ‘can be a very exciting emotion.’ From then on, homoerotic undertones, atmospheric black-and-white camerawork, Ford’s fight not to let bitterness get the better of decency and Hayworth’s ever-present heat combine in one of the great films noirs, softened just a little by the moralising censorship strictures of the time. See it.

Release details

Rated: PG
Release date: Friday July 22 2011
Duration: 110 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Charles Vidor
Screenwriter: Jo Eisinger, Marion Parsonnet
Cast: Steve Geray
Glenn Ford
Rita Hayworth
Gerald Mohr
Joseph Calleia
George Macready
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I agree with Bosley Crowther's NYTimes' review. The motives and behavior of the principle characters just don't make sense. Maybe there's a homosexual subtext--a line early in the film is 'Johnny Farrell' saying to 'Ballen,' "you must live a gay life"--but even that is so murky that one can't see through the film's vagueness. Even the German sub-sub-plot of a Tungsten cartel seems irrelevant. Finally, it's way too long, with a slow-as-molasses pace, to keep the viewer's interest for long. Rita's dances seem shoe-horned in, as well.