Released in 1946, Gilda is the often imitated, never duplicated, dramatic film about a raging romance set in gambling halls and seedy nightclubs in a hot little village in Argentina.
The lead actress, Rita Hayworth has inspired countless other characters with her slinky iconic look, including Jessica Rabbit. Another notable film credit is being the actress on the poster used on the wall in The Shawshank Redemption. Similar events take place in both films which suggests the poster inspired more than the infamous escape.
Rita Hayworth, the First Bombshell Beauty, Literally
According to legend, the term “bombshell beauty” originates first with the one and only, Rita Hayworth.
Rita’s image was placed on an atom bomb after the release of her iconic movie Gilda.
She was never consulted before this, the ultimate decision to use her image was made as a tribute to her beauty from the fly boy crew in charge of its deployment.
Privately, Rita vehemently objected to being used on a tool of war and destruction, but she was censored from speaking out against the war by higher forces.
Friends Who Like To Make Their Own Luck
The story begins with Johnny (played by Glenn Ford), fresh off the boat and into the seedy streets off the coast of Argentina.
After gambling the night away with American sailors and a pair of loaded dice, Johnny’s takes his winnings out to the alley to count them.
Up comes a mugger, with a gun in his back before he can even get through half the stack, a stranger with a cane comes up out of the darkness to swat the gun away!
Thanks to the hideaway sword in his cane, Johnny narrowly escapes with his wad of cash. The cane belongs to a smart dressed man with an accent, who was just happening along. With a little chit chat, it turns out he’s Johnny’s gambling peer on the pier.
The stranger saves his fortune (and his life), even ventures to give him some sage advice, “don’t bring your own dice”, when he tries his luck at these games.
After sharing a cigarette with a plucky Johnny, he directs him to the action at a little place he knows. Illegal gambling, Johnny’s trade but he’d better leave his loaded dice at home?
It’s an offer to make his own luck that Johnny can’t refuse.
Once at the gambling hall, he gets up to his old tricks, cutting cards to win at blackjack (technically not dice).
His repeat winnings draw the attention of the house Detective and gets him hauled upstairs to the boss for cheating.
After taking a few lumps from security, (then returning a few punches to the ones responsible, and gaining the upper hand), Johnny manages to weasel himself a job from the man he just cheated, (and the man who saved his life) the gambling hall owner, Ballin Mundson, played by George Macgready.
With a promise not to cheat, and to be as obedient as his trusty hide-away sword cane, Ballin lets down his guard and promotes him within the gambling hall.
Things are running smoothly as Johnny handles the security for the casino, he is moving up in the world.
He’s Ballin’s righthand man, his job is keeping an eye on Ballin’s affairs/interests. While Ballin is a generous benefactor and has his hands in a little bit of everything surrounding his club, there are things Johnny just doesn’t know about him.
It’s all the same to Johnny, who lives by the same philosophy as Ballin: Women and gambling don’t mix. So, with that understanding they toast to just the 3 of them. What could go wrong?
Enter the Dame: What Happened to Just the 3 of Us?
The war with Germany ends, spirits are high across the world and Ballin, (who has a German accent) needs to travel suddenly to settle some sort of business.
Johnny’s such a loyal and obedient worker, Ballin takes the time off and leaves Johnny in charge of his gambling hall as he heads out of town. He learns the ins and outs, which buttons push what for what, and before long the generous but unsettling Ballin is off..
While his boss is gone, Johnny keeps things running smoothly. The gamblers stay happy and the liquor flowing, so naturally, he is excited when his boss blows back into town. With an unexpected 3rd wheel to their understanding.
His new wife, Gilda played by Rita Hayworth. As soon as they meet the chemistry is palpable but it’s unclear as to what sparks the reaction between them.
Johnny is noticeably taken aback, even smirks when Ballin asks his new wife if she’s decent.
For an informal introduction, it’s clear, the two have already made their minds up about each other.
Gilda refuses to play nice, for even a few minutes, which leads Ballin to several conclusions: they were trying to hide their previous connection. He helps Gilda get dressed and makes it known, Johnny is a friend and she needed to get along with him.
And though she never makes their previous relationship clear, Ballin knows whatever happened between them, is not entirely over.
Ballin needed to get to the bottom of this feeling.
Gilda can hardly contain her emotions or hold back her contempt for the news that her old Johnny is such good friends with her new husband. She would do what she was told but warned Ballin he would have to teach her manners.
Gilda also cannot contain her desire for former flame, Johnny, despite her hasty rebound marriage to his boss. What was a girl to do with all that rage?
It amuses Ballin to watch their awkward tension play out across drinks where he inquires into Johnny’s past, his love life and what gave him such a cold understanding towards women.
After all, Gilda and Johnny share the exact same story: born the night they met Ballin, no past. So much evasion when just the sight of one another sends off heat in the atmosphere.
Gilda plays along with Ballin’s game and suggests they should all “hate her”, whoever broke Johnny’s heart. They toast, Johnny cheerfully willing at her suggestions, but for Gilda, the bubbles seem to get caught in her throat. Ballin sees it all.
Once alone, the moment Ballin is called away from the table, Johnny and Gilda have it out. He’s disgusted by her choice of occupation, being married to his generous friend.
Gilda points out their circumstances were remarkably similar, considering Johnny was the one responsible for her hasty marriage, after he ditched her to make it as a high stakes gambler.
A stranger comes up to ask Johnny’s permission to dance with Gilda, he says no. Gilda sees this as her first opportunity to disobey him, to show him things were different and see how he likes that.
She happily leaves the table, after all, Johnny can’t afford her, and slow dances with the stranger, while all he can do is watch.
Finally, Gilda figured out what it took to get Johnny’s attention.
When Ballin returns to find Gilda gone, he tells a reluctant Johnny to go and fetch her for him. After all, a man looked ridiculous taking his wife back from another man.
The night ends with poor Gilda, laying across her bed in her ballgown, she simply can’t work a zipper properly to take it off. Ballin helps, but really wants to discuss the introduction and meeting with his right hand man, Johnny.
Gilda admits they were together before but she never really knew him. Ballin shares his secret with his new bride, after some reflection on the hate he felt between them. Hate, is the only thing that warms him.
Yet Another Part of the Job
After successfully keeping her away from any new suitors on the dancefloor, and bring her back to Ballin unharmed, the boss decides to make guarding Gilda another part of Johnny’s job.
Things are always bubbling around the enigmatic Ballin. Shady characters, back alley deals, bribes and corruption were always happening all around. While the boss keeps his eye on business, it’s up to Johnny to keep Gilda in line.
Gilda tries her luck at the gambling tables and does just fine. A man comes up and warns her of a superstition attached to her good fortune: lucky in cards, unlucky in love.
Spooked, she decides to have a smoke which leads her to another stranger, maybe this one could get Johnny’s attention?
Married after the day they met, Ballin is completely smitten with his beautiful new wife, despite her wandering ways and Johnny’s attempts to warn him.
Gilda knows her husband is a dangerous man, but she hardly gives him a second thought whenever Johnny is around.
She just couldn’t help herself, she still held feelings for him, and Johnny just hated her all the more for it.
And whenever Johnny was around, it was all she could do to keep his attention, any kind of attention.
He has his hands full beating up and scaring off her conquest for the night, instead of helping Ballin with increasingly sordid and underhanded business.
Gilda doesn’t appreciate his macho act, and solely on behalf of her new controlling husband, not because of his feelings for her.
Things between them would only keep heating up, making their entanglements even stickier from there.
The Carnival: All She Really Wanted
The tension builds between them, Ballin orders Johnny to accompany Gilda to the ball. He’s been covering for her lies all this time, but now, the dance just intensifies his displeasure.
Johnny is ice cold to Gilda’s previous attempts at making him jealous, all she really wants is to be closer to him, so she tries even harder to tease him more. Dancing closer, holding tighter, she just can’t help herself!
Out of disgust he shoves her away from him, right in the middle of the dance floor! This is Gilda’s cue to run off since she is left alone by Johnny again.
Hot tempered Johnny leaves her right there in the middle of the dance floor. He’s had enough of her foolishness, so he heads back to check on security. Last thing he wants to hear from his guys, something was gonna go down and he needed to take Gilda home.
Ballin’s troubled business connections spill out into the gambling hall, there’s gunfire and Johnny has to protect his boss. It’s the writing on the wall for Ballin, if anything should happen to him, he needed Johnny to take over for him. Keep the club running strong.
Gilda’s gone but she’s left a note, come and get her from a hotel at about 2 in the morning.
It’s a love/hate connection between them. She tries to explain herself but Johnny isn’t interested in talking. Not a first.
She was so selfish, so foolhardy caring only for herself. He tried to run her off on his own, and failed miserably.
They end up kissing passionately before too long.
It’s clear that Ballin has seen their betrayal and with his own eyes. Johnny runs after his employer to explain himself.
Moments later, after giving chase in a car and driving all over, Ballin escapes to a waiting plane in a field, and before Johnny’s eyes, crashes engulfed in flames in the ocean.
Before he “dies”, Ballin gives Johnny executorship over his estate and business, Gilda gets his fortune.
The Tables Have Turned: Decent?
Johnny quickly woos the unsuspecting Gilda, who opens her heart back up to trusting the man who nearly broke her free spirit and set her on this path of self destruction.
Inside, Johnny’s beside himself with guilt. It didn’t help that, the last thing his generous employer sees before death, was the man he trusted, saved and gave a new life to, kissing his new wife. After all he had done for them, it was too much for him to bear.
Johnny devises a plan to get his revenge on Gilda for the part she played in Ballin’s suicide. When she arrives at her new home, all her things are there, including Ballin’s potrait. It wasn’t decent that it should be there, Gilda exclaims! Johnny sneers, after all, what did she know about decency?
The tides and tables have suddenly turned, Johnny marries her, but only to keep her in a cage. He never consummates the marriage, it’s all been a farce to pay her back for the death of his employer.
Gilda is clueless to his motives, each night waiting patiently for her new husband, each morning she wakes alone.
Unlucky in love again, it’s another risk to chance but superstitious Gilda must be free of his hold. She runs away as Johnny shows his true colors, starts her legendary nightclub act in another city.
Johnny goes to great, cruel and heartbreaking lengths to trick her back to the Hotel Centario and into his control once again.
Gilda is trapped, livid, and almost completely broken after his latest elaborate deception. Almost.
Why Not Give Him A Reason?: The Legendary Impromptu Strip Tease
Gilda’s revenge for Johnny’s trick is bittersweet and for all to see.
She never ran out on Ballin or Johnny, not really, just went through the motions to get a reaction from Johnny.
But now they had both taken things too far. Johnny wouldn’t listen to reason and since she was going to keep being punished for what she hadn’t done and accused, so…well?
Gilda won’t stand being played for a fool, so she decides to do her little nightclub act.
This time at Johnny’s bar.
Gilda’s does an impromptu strip tease for the crowd while she sings! The crowd is so raucous they scream for her to take off more!
And more! Until there’s nothing left to take off except…
She can’t mean…
Before she can get assistance slipping off her dress for the cheering crowd, it all ends with yet another bodyguard dragging her off stage.
She finds Johnny waiting for her, she starts to scream at him and furious Johnny interrupts her tantrum by slapping Gilda’s face!
Can they go on, will he ever forgive her, will she get an annulment?
What else can go wrong between the two lovers?
Will Johhny ever listen to reason, ever get over the past, ever realize it was all just a dangerous game?
This visually luxe thriller gives it’s audience a steady cast of nefarious characters with questionable morals, motives and decency.
Plot twist and red herrings abound, but in the end, Gilda gets her man Johnny and runs off into the hot Argentinean night.
A crazy tale of young love that blazes through rejection, betrayal and contempt then nearly reduces everything around them to ashes it burns so hot!
Enjoyed the antics of Gilda and Johnny, unlucky in love but lucky in cards on the coast of Argentina? Love Rita Hayworth? Drop me a comment below!
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