During a sequence which depicts a masquerade party in Gilda, the camera pans across a rowdy, chaotic scene packed with dancing revellers; streamers and glittering threads of confetti. One of the drunken partygoers lets out a scream when she unmasks her partner only to find a wound in the middle of his forehead –a victim of murder! It is hinted that the casualty was a member of the Nazi party, but both these subtexts become less important during the film than the love triangle which dominates it.
Gilda follows the story of a man; his employer and closest friend and the woman they both long for. The film is a haphazard sewing together of a number of disparate plot elements, but the charisma and style of the gorgeous Rita Hayworth in the title role manage to hold it all together.
The Revealing of Rita Hayworth
In spite of the fact that Rita Hayworth gets top billing in Gilda, she does not actually make her appearance until 15 minutes into the film. During this time the audience is treated to the relationship between the crooked gambler Johnny and shifty casino owner Ballin developing. After the latter saves Johnny’s life their relationship strengthens, and the mobile casinos Kenya owner hires Johnny in order to police premises. They strike a deal: Johnny agrees to stay away from the ladies as his boss Ballin does. Johnny is sorely disappointed when his new boss takes up with his old lover however, the gorgeous Gilda, and ends up at the altar.
Risky Plot Lines Barely Closeted
The homosexual undertones that characterise the relationship between Ballin and Johnny are kept in the closet, so to speak, in an understandable move when one considers the far more conservative film-goer of the 1940s. What is more difficult to understand however, is why the Nazi plotline is treated so similarly: the Germans who come in search of Ballin after that country’s defeat in World War II have a financial bone to pick with him, and the word “Nazi” is never mentioned. Ballin is characterised by an elitist disposition however, and plans for world domination, and it is hardly in doubt as to which side of the ideological moral line he resides.
Although the writers for this film struggle with depicting Ballin’s megalomania, seeming to settle with only very broad set pieces in order to describe it: an attempt on his life; the fact that he seems to head up a very menacing cartel and the fact that there are documents which seem to be able to grant whoever possesses them world domination, they do far better at ensuring that the viewers’ sympathies shift from Johnny to Gilda as the plotline unfolds, and the black, biting humour that arises from their antipathy to one another is marvellously constructed.
The sympathetic portrayal of a sexually active woman is what sets Gilda apart from other films of this era: although she is punished for it, she resorts to it to rescue herself as well, and there is a sympathetic element to this plot feature that is unusual for movies from this very conservative era that remained wilfully ignorant of the female sexual psyche.