Quite possibly THE MOST fabulous movie character I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.
In addition to the best friend in a romantic-comedy, the helpful high school English teacher, and the talking animal sidekick, one of my all-time favourite types of movie characters is the femme fatale. From Amy Dunne in Gone Girl (2014), to Lynn Bracken in L.A. Confidential (1997), to Selina Kyle in Batman Returns (1992), I love watching a powerful, mysterious, glamorous woman scheme and work her way into getting exactly what she wants. I find it extremely gratifying, especially in old films from the 1940s and 50s. The cult classic, Gilda (1946), stars Rita Hayworth as arguably the most famous femme fatale in all of cinema so, I knew that I definitely had to check this movie out. While the movie as a whole was decently entertaining, the titular character is hands down the most jaw-dropping, remarkable, astounding part of this movie. Gilda isn’t just one of my new favourite femme fatales. She’s one of my new favourite movie characters, PERIOD.
Gilda follows Johnny Farrell, a small-time American gambler who is hired to work as the manager of a shady casino in Buenos Aires. His boss, the equally shady Ballin Munderson, orders Johnny to look after the casino and its illegal affairs, as well as his new wife, the beautiful and free-spirited Gilda. Unknown to Ballin, Johnny and Gilda have a romantic past, making Johnny’s job of looking after Gilda all the more complicated.
I’ll be honest with you guys. The majority of this review is going to be dedicated solely to Hayworth and her performance because oh my God, she’s THAT mesmerizing. Like I said, Gilda is a decent enough movie, but it’s really Hayworth who makes this movie so worthwhile. In fact, I’d recommend watching it for Hayworth alone. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever been enchanted by an actress like this before. Trust me, we’ll talk about it. Hayworth aside, Gilda is worth watching for the simple fact that it’s the quintessential film noir. The first five minutes immediately and effortlessly establish a tone that is so elegant, suave, and dripping with mystique, that you’ll have no trouble being drawn in. Sidenote, are there still sexy, stylish, James Bond-type casinos in the world? Or are they mostly like, cheesy, Atlantic City-type casinos these days? Hmm, I think the latter.
In every way imaginable, Gilda delivers exactly what you want out of a film noir. It’s stylish, it’s sneaky, it manages a few good plot twists, and there’s a romance that is electric to say the least. The story is straightforward and engaging but for me, loses any momentum whenever Hayworth isn’t onscreen. It bears repeating: Hayworth is a goddess. Her male co-stars, who are mistakenly given more screentime than Hayworth, simply don’t have the intrigue or charisma to keep me fully invested in their storylines.
It’s hilarious. I get the sense that Glenn Ford and George Macready, who star as Johnny and Ballin respectively, are meant to be the characters with whom we’re most interested in, but they just don’t do anything for me. They have the most screentime, and are most central to the story, but they feel much more like secondary characters. Both are fine actors with fine enough characters (although fairly one-dimensional), but there’s just no competing with Hayworth and her charm. Shoutout to Ford though who does a marvellous job of playing someone so smarmy and untrustworthy, but is still someone you can’t help but root for. What he honestly reminded me most of is a side character in a Batman movie. Hmm, maybe it’s because of all the crime and tuxedos.
The illegal activity and subsequent drama that Johnny gets into is an interesting storyline in theory, but in actuality, it comes off as slightly bland. Why? Simple. Because it hardly involves Gilda at all. I personally believe that a film noir lives and dies based on its femme fatale and Gilda does its title character a disservice by choosing to keep her out of the action for a majority of the movie. Involving Gilda more directly in the movie’s plot easily would have taken this movie from an A- to an A+. Anytime the story isn’t about Gilda, it’s alright but not nearly as enticing.
Okay. The time has come. Let’s talk about Rita Hayworth. I have to admit, although I was already enjoying the movie, I got 10 times more interested when this stunning woman showed up. I’m not exaggerating when I say that when she first appeared onscreen, I audibly gasped and went, “HOLY FUCK.” How could I not? The first glimpse of Gilda is where she flips her hair in the most fabulous way I’ve possibly ever seen, and then flashes this absolutely radiant smile that instantly lights up the screen. She’s the type of beautiful that exudes strength and confidence. Words can’t describe the power behind Hayworth’s performance. I full-heartedly believe she could get you to do anything she wanted just by asking. She’s breathtakingly gorgeous. Even in a simple dressing gown! Hayworth has such a commanding presence that it’s impossible to resist watching her or be drawn in by her.
What makes Hayworth’s such a phenomenal performance is how much she does with literally so little. You watch the way she confidently flips her hair, or carries herself across a dance floor, or playfully dishes out these sassy one-liners, and you have no problem believing that underneath that beautiful exterior is the most cunning, most dangerous person in the room. Tenacious and firm in each decision she makes, it’s a blast to watch Hayworth bring Gilda to life. She has this undeniable talent that is so indescribable. I’m genuinely saddened that she passed away before being able to make movies in the 1980s and 90s. I feel like Hayworth had the quick timing, wit, and understanding of tone to nail any comedy, drama, or rom-com that would have come her way. Oh my God, so literally every single costume in Gilda is breathtaking, but her signature black dress is EVERYTHING. It’s so iconic, so deliciously on brand for the character, so timelessly stylish, that I think it’s one of my favourite costumes in a movie. Ever. I love that she basically looks like the evil twin of Marilyn Monroe’s equally iconic character in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Watching Hayworth is like watching a siren and I dare you to try resist falling under her spell.
If you’re a fan of film noir, femme fatales, or just good ol’ fashioned gorgeous costumes and production design, than Gilda is an absolute must-see movie. Full of fiery passion, ferocious defiance, and a career-defining performance from Hayworth, I have no choice but to agree with the movie poster: There never was a woman like Gilda. As well, there will never be a film noir quite like Gilda either.
Have you seen Gilda? Are you a fan of film noir?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!