Legendary Hollywood sex symbol Rita Hayworth is at her most alluring in Gilda, a delightfully kitschy melodrama that remains this former dancing girl's best-remembered star vehicle. Ravishing in slinky evening gowns, Rita plays the lusty wife of South American casino owner George Macready, whose shady side operations include tungsten smuggling. Right-hand man Glenn Ford, something of a gambler himself, takes a big chance when he succumbs to Rita's considerable charms under the watchful eye of her suspicious husband. The film's oft-shown highlight is Hayworth's celebrated striptease (more tease than strip) performed to the strains of "Put the Blame on Mame," an enjoyably trashy little ditty. Charles Vidor, who also directed Hayworth in the Technicolor tunefests Cover Girl and Loves of Carmen, never lets the occasionally overwrought story of international intrigue overshadow his sultry star, never sexier than she is here.
There never was a noir woman like Rita Hayworth in the title role of Charles Vidor's stylish Gilda (1946), the film that sealed her reputation as the leading 1940s love goddess. As the hair-tossing female caught between Glenn Ford's Johnny and George Macready's Ballen, Hayworth's Gilda is as much put-upon victim as temptress, an interloper in the relationship between Ballen and Johnny. Their initial meeting and master-servant relationship, sprinkled with significant glances, imply that Johnny is as much Ballen's object of desire as is Gilda, plumbing the literally shadowy depths of film noir's sexual perversity as much as the Production Code allowed, and adding an extra twist to the tortured Johnny-Gilda union after Ballen's faked death. Still, it is Gilda who suffers most for exuding the sexuality that entices Johnny and Ballen, lending a knowing edge to her famed performance of "Put the Blame on Mame" clad in lustrous black satin, suggesting a full striptease by removing a glove. That sequence became a signature star moment for Hayworth, and established Gilda as a noteworthy work of erotically charged film noir, despite the Code-friendly, good-girl ending.
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