Sunday, January 24, 2016

Taking the Gloves Off

Well, Criterion certainly had the right idea with its insert for their new edition of 1946's Gilda on Blu-Ray and DVD. Though it may not be big enough for Andy Dufresne's purposes--mind you, I think The Shawshank Redemption is possibly the most overrated film of the past thirty years, though I do like the Stephen King story on which it's based. But no subject was ever more deserving of a pin-up than Rita Hayworth in Gilda. And she was always a beautiful pin-up, one of the most famous pin-ups of World War II in fact. Richard Schickel provides the commentary on the new Criterion release and it's as disappointing as all his other commentaries I've heard, filled with long silences and redundant observations. But I found his perspective on Hayworth in this film interesting in that he claims to find her too sweet to believe she's really sleeping with all the men she leaves the nightclub with. I couldn't disagree with him more on that point and, anyway, even if she seems decent, there's no reason to think she actually is. She regards the idea as a joke in her famous opening shot, after all.

The way she always uses her teeth like she's ready to bite something, I'd never describe her as too sweet or innocent. The reason I think this movie works so well for her is it's the first time she seemed warm at all. Ballin, George Macready's character, says hate is the only thing that "warms" him. The love triangle in this film between Gilda, Ballin, and Johnny (Glenn Ford) is certainly in equal measure a hate triangle. In Cover Girl and Blood and Sand and other movies she appeared in before and after Gilda there always seemed something reptilian about her to me, I never felt she was attracted to her costars. But she's different in Gilda and maybe it's the excitement of that hatred that casts her mannerisms in another light.

On the flipside of the poster insert is an essay on the film by Sheila O'Malley. Schickel, despite talking about Hayworth's sweetness, still describes Gilda as the ultimate femme fatale while O'Malley denies that she is anything but a victim, asserting she's not a femme fatale at all but fighting to survive between the malevolent forces of two men, Ballin and Johnny. Both Schickel and O'Malley comment on the homoerotic quality of Ballin and Johnny's relationship. Ballin saving Johnny with his "little friend", an unmistakably phallic trick cane with a spring locked blade, would in itself suggest something more than friendly between the two, as does Johnny's immediate assessment of Ballin as a "gay" fellow--yes, the word "gay" used to only mean "happy" and probably got past the censors for that reason but as Cary Grant's line in Bringing Up Baby demonstrates the word already had the connotation of "homosexual". But Johnny's constant, feverish protectiveness of Ballin and Ballin's oddly gentle manners towards Johnny makes it all crystal clear. We never find out why Gilda and Johnny broke up before the events of the film--Gilda says at one point she was true to Johnny and it never got her anywhere. So Johnny doesn't hate her because she cheated on him. So why? Does he hate her for not being a man?

Well, there's certainly a lot more to these characters than their sexual orientations. Schickel observes that Ford's performance doesn't suggest how thoroughly psychotic Johnny's actions are. I don't think Ford's performance is bad or inappropriate but the last scene of the film is certainly bizarre, the idea that the two could reconcile after a few kind words after Johnny has paid a lawyer to seduce her, trick her into coming back to Buenos Ares under the promise of getting an annulment of her marriage with Johnny only to lock her back in the hotel room where she'd been kept prisoner . . . That's more than being a jerk, that's intricately premeditated batfuckery. I've always felt quite sure the ending of the film was required by the censors, not only for that but for the weirdly two dimensional wrap up with Balllin and the cop showing up to pronounce moral propriety on everything.

The Blu-Ray also comes with surprisingly brief interviews with Baz Luhrmann and Martin Scorsese, Luhrmann doing most of the talking with Scorsese having little to say for once. What Luhrmann says is mostly of little substance but he does usefully observe how incredibly expensive and carefully constructed Hollywood movies were at the time Gilda came out, he talks about how he consciously imitated Gilda's hair with Nichole Kidman's character in his Moulin Rouge and had to use wigs to do so simply because he hadn't the resources to carefully compose the actress' hair between shots as Hayworth's had been.

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