Gilda is a striking and beautifully shot movie, Rita Hayworth’s talent highlights this quintessential noir. Silhouetted characters, shadows, and hazy deception are used heavily throughout the film. Straight on glam shots pose as useful with a starlet such as Rita Hayworth, especially when showing character interaction. We see long profile shots with facial manipulation, a sexual allure; smoke drifting out of the frame, darting doe eyes, the introduction of the character of Gilda being a prime example. The camera shows the men walking up a flight of stairs, a woman’s voice in the background, and then we see her. They have essentially found their queen herself in her castle, falling all over her newly found luxury and fine garments. Front and center, there is nothing else in the shot but Gilda. From this point on the movie is changed. These men, unsuspecting as they were, have their worlds turned upside down by what seems to be love, or possession of something labeled as “love”, or this amazing woman, Gilda.
Subtle hints in direction fill up every moment of the film. Gilda starts out with the roll of dice- literally, face first into the camera, from the ground up. I suppose this captures the entire concept of the plot; Johnny moves from the ground up, then someone dies on the floor. We see the roll, the gamble, and the pan up. The viewer is given insightful narrative of the sorted people around the protagonist, and the need to leave, and then Johnny is caught in a dark alleyway, gun to his back. He has come to the end of the line. This is when we meet Ballin Mundson, a casino owner. Ironically, Johnny is saved by the very knife that will in the end kill his would be killer; the person who once saved him from his would be killer, Mr. Mundson. Why is this well-dressed casino owner in this dark and mysterious alleyway saving an inconsequential bum’s life? Is Johnny his patsy? We won’t find out until later, but the opening scene has it all.
I feel Johnny’s life being spared is an ode to living by the sword dying by the sword for Ballin, considerably when we see how quick he is to make sharp and drastic decisions, such as, nixing the Number 2 Black Roulette man. We see Ballin walking around with an innocuous looking cane, and then boom, the next moment it’s a blade ready to slice at whatever, or whoever is in the way. Also this plays into Johnny and Gilda, when they are ready to do whatever, whenever to get whatever they want whenever. They are sharp and ready to monopolize on any advantage. They attempt to cut each other down with jealousy, words, possessive antics, and cold stares, at times without being detected.
Gilda gives these men power. She becomes the third-wheel in what is a seemingly well-oiled machine for a business/relationship. It is later revealed that both Johnny and Gilda come from the same knit. They are very similar, if not spouses (which I assume they were). Mr. Mundson essentially loses his mind because he cannot control the movements of his bride. In a sense the director has created Gilda as a possession, an object, whoever has this possession is in charge, yet Gilda has plans of her own, clearly. She does whatever she wants, she doesn’t ask for permission, and she is outspoken- rather risqué for the time (1946). The men appear pensive and timid, especially in times of dealing with lover’s betrayal. The culmination of this pent up aggression results in violence towards Gilda, and further deception by Ballin, the one we believe is being deceived (when he fakes his own death, excessively: plane crash/explosion into the ocean). The director may be giving a nod to the idea of equality, equating Johnny and Gilda, and Ballin to Johnny and Gilda. Everyone is pretty much equal in their betrayal and deception.
Johnny starts from the bottom and quickly rises to the top, as Gilda eventually does, as Ballin once did himself. Johnny even expresses to Mr. Mundson, something to the effect of, “I taught her everything she knows.” I feel as though both Johnny and Gilda have fallen in love with the same man, and again with each other, for similar reasons: security. Johnny’s almost effeminate appearance and boyish charm seem lover-boyish, also his jealousy towards Gilda and Ballin’s relationship with Gilda shows the love he has for the man, and for Gilda.
Another interesting theme in the movie is the barbershop attendant, who looks like the Wizard of Oz, who always acknowledges Johnny as peasant, as if even if he has all of these lavish material possessions, power, he is still the same at heart, a lowly peasant. One can compare this to the love/hate relationship he has with Gilda, even if he appears different now, he is still very much in love with Gilda all the same, and powerless to her charm.