Imagine if they took the love-hate dynamic relationship between Rick Blaine and Ilsa from “Casablanca” but focused much more on the hate side, and you’ll get something pretty close to “Gilda.” The contempt and jealousy throughout this film is thick, as our two former love birds fight for the only thing that matters to them, control over the other.
Set in Bueno Aries during and after World War II, we follow gambler Johnny Farrow (Glenn Ford) who is down on his luck having just moved from New York to Argentina. Johnny is rescued by the friendly owner of a high-class casino, Ballin Mundson (George Macready), who eventually takes in Johnny as his right-hand man. But things take a strange turn when Mundson leaves for a little while and returns with his new bride, Gilda (Rita Hayworth). It is quickly established that Johnny and Gilda have a history together, a relationship that meant a lot to the two of them but ended badly.
Gilda takes absolute delight in messing with Johnny’s head, flaunting her sexuality and authority over him being his bosses wife. Johnny, on the other hand, goes out of his way to make sure Gilda has a terrible time in Argentina while serving as her body guard. This leads to a war of attrition and insults between Johnny and Gilda, where both admit they’re fine with destroying themselves as long as they take the other down with them.
While we never learn the details of the previous relationship between Gilda and Johnny, the performances by Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford tells us everything we need to know. The way these two look at each other with such hatred and ferocity, yet cannot take their eyes off each other, shows how deep their contempt goes.
While their dynamic is the backbone of the movie, it is sold by just how sexy Rita Hayworth looks throughout this movie. She’s less a femme fatale and more so a temptress driven by a grudge against one man. There is not a single moment in this film where Rita doesn’t look attractive or isn’t trying to flaunt her beauty.
But ultimately, “Gilda” is a film about control. Our two leads fight throughout the film to show they are superior to the other and their feelings for the other. They’re always looking for a new weakness or way to manipulate the other, even if it’s something as simple as a jab using insults. Even the third player in all this, Mundson, seeks to control everything from his casino, to Johnny and his wife, even demanding control of how the world will be shaped following World War II. All of these people crave and demand power over other people, which they feel is the only power worth having.
Overall, “Gilda” is a powerful romantic thriller, with some great sets and atmosphere with its casino backdrop set in Argentina. Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth are mesmerizing together and have one of the best love-hate relationships in cinema. This is never a dull moment while Rita Hayworth is around, and this is her crowning achievement.
Final Grade: A-