Empire (UK) - - REVIEW -

GILDA, THE SIREN played by Rita Hay­worth, pro­vokes ob­ses­sion in ev­ery­one she en­coun­ters.

Gilda, the film, has a sim­i­lar ef­fect. “I was com­pletely per­plexed by the pic­ture,” says Martin Scors­ese, who saw it aged 11, on this Cri­te­rion Blu-ray’s ex­tras. “I had no idea what was hap­pen­ing… but I kept watch­ing it again and again.” Can it be a co­in­ci­dence he went on to make his own tale of a warped love tri­an­gle in 1995’s

Casino? Baz Luhrmann also re­counts how the movie got a grip on him: he mod­elled Ni­cole Kid­man’s Moulin

Rouge! hairdo on Gilda’s locks. Once ex­pe­ri­enced, it’s not eas­ily for­got­ten.

Aptly enough, the film was born out of in­fat­u­a­tion. Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Pic­tures, was smitten with Hay­worth and or­dered a ve­hi­cle to show­case her charms. Hence this tale in which small-time crook Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) gets hired to run a shady Buenos Aires casino, only to find his new boss (Ge­orge Macready) has mar­ried his old flame. Hay­worth is ridicu­lously sexy through­out, from her hair-toss­ing in­tro­duc­tory close-up to the pre­ci­sion­chore­ographed song and dance. The wardrobe bud­get was astro­nom­i­cal: she wears 29 costumes over 110 min­utes, with two of the furs alone cost­ing $100,000.

But there’s a lot more to Gilda than glam­our. It shares many of the in­gre­di­ents of Casablanca, with its ex­otic lo­cale, old lovers re­united and even a gag­gle of sin­is­ter Ger­mans, yet pe­cu­liar psy­cho­log­i­cal un­der­cur­rents mark it out as unique. Macready’s Ballin Mund­son is the ob­vi­ous vil­lain: he creep­ily calls his sword-cane his “lit­tle friend” and at one point dons a cape. But Johnny is ar­guably worse. His love has cur­dled into hate. It’s a film about the ul­ti­mate on-off re­la­tion­ship, and how ro­mance can warp into some­thing dark and de­struc­tive.

Hay­worth was later to rue the ef­fect the movie had on her life, com­plain­ing that, “Men go to bed with Gilda, but wake up with me.” But if the per­for­mance was detri­men­tal to her hap­pi­ness, it has made count­less view­ers (in­clud­ing Red and friends in The Shaw­shank Re­demp­tion) sit up straight in the decades since. It’s an as­ton­ish­ingly nu­anced turn, arc­ing from sul­tri­ness to vul­ner­a­bil­ity, best ex­em­pli­fied by her two ren­di­tions of Put The Blame On Mame. The first is a warm, guitar-strum­ming lul­laby; the sec­ond a drunken strip­tease in de­fi­ance of Johnny’s dom­i­na­tion. No won­der lit­tle Marty’s mind was blown. NICK DE SEM­LYEN

Above: “Let the drink­ing games com­mence.” Be­low: Ford and Hay­worth took to cat­a­logue mod­el­ling like pros.

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