Not rated. I was going to say that not much happens that could be controversial, and then I thought about it for more than a second. The bad guy has a cane that turns straight up into a sword. He stabs folks with this sword cane. Also, the titular character, at one point, is almost stripped naked in front of a room full of people. There's gambling, implied infidelity, murder. I don't know what I was thinking. It's not the most offensive movie in the world, but the world of film noir is a dark place, ladies and gentlemen. Oh. And smoking...as seen above.
DIRECTOR: Charles Vidor
It's kind of a testament to how many movies I watch, particularly during Oscar season, that I'm two weeks behind on Gilda and I've been writing almost everyday. This is all part of the film noir grad class. Since the Academy Awards are over, I can take a little bit of a break on the film binge. I should be catching up to the class pretty soon. It'll actually be a boon to have the film noir class because it'll probably give me just the right amount of mandatory film watching that I need to get through my film blog and its arbitrary constraints on my time.
I fought pretty hard that Gilda might not actually be film noir, but just film-noir-eque. I'm going to talk a lot about how this film is just Evil Casablanca, but I do want to examine what makes something film noir. The big discussion in class is that there isn't technically a set of rules to make something film noir. There are recurring themes and motifs in a lot of film noir, but you can't technically make a checklist to determine whether or not something is considered film noir. I'd also like to cover my bases now by stating the thing that we keep repeating in class: "Film noir isn't really a genre." I can get behind that, so I wander out into some murky waters during my arguement, please bear with me.
Gilda reads a lot like a romance. Since I made that comparison to Evil Casablanca, I'm going to use that as my argument for what is and what is not film noir. Not a lot of people consider Casablanca to be a film noir. Yeah, it's got Bogie and shadows, but some of that is the product of the age. Casablanca came out before the era of film noir mostly. The alienation of the American solider parallels the existential crises that one finds in a good film noir, so Casablanca doesn't really meet that considering that it is released during the earlier years of the war. But Gilda has a lot of the same foundational points and beats as Casablanca. I know I'm intentionally being vague, but it also helps that I'm not the only person who pointed this out. The second I started noticing this, I did a quick Google search and someone bulletpointed every single connection that Gilda has with Casablanca. I know that I'm not crazy.
Both films are set in a remote place, free from the rules and norms of the West. The protagonist is an outsider who has made his way through life by husslin'. The majority of the film takes place in a casino. In said casino, the national anthem is defiantly sung in response to Nazi tyranny. A state official is being paid off to ignore the gambling within the casino. Someone is murdered in the casino. There's an employee who is older, overweight, and acts as the comic relief. There's a scene where the police chase the protagonist to an airfield. The protagonist has lost someone he has loved and she shows up in the middle of nowhere, implying they could have a second act. There's a love triangle between these people. It's a lot of Casablanca.
So if Gilda is just Evil Casablanca, how can it be film noir? I suppose it's the fact that I tacked on the word "Evil" to the whole thing might be a giveaway. Rick in Casablanca is cold, but he's not a villain. The movie teases that he might have villainous traits, but he's kind of just out for himself. Gilda doesn't have the same morality. Rick is morally neutral and he becomes good. Johnny Farrell is a guy who starts bad and becomes worse. It's only because the movie must have needed a happy ending that the film allows Johnny to have his wildly out-of-character redemptive moment. But throughout the story, Johnny is kind of a jerk. He's on his way up and he's hungry. But once he has what he wants, he instantly becomes unlikable and kind of a jerk.
Han Solo, at the beginning of Star Wars is a bit of a scoundrel. We get the impression that he's cheated people before. He's lived for himself and found himself at times at the bottom of a gutter or a glass. But because Luke and Obi-Wan intervened at the appropriate time, his morality skewed good. He's this guy who becomes better with each film. He uses his background to use the tools that he learned while being a punk for good. But I have to imagine that a guy like Han Solo would probably be a monster if he actually accomplished what he wanted. Johnny Farrell is a bad guy who would do anything to get ahead. He's kinda/sorta likable at the beginning of the movie when he has nothing. It's only when he gets everything he wants that he becomes kind of a sociopath. There's something alluring about having a goal and working towards something that can be admired. When Farrell achieves his goal, he becomes kind of a punk.
Which brings us to the titular character. I'm sorry that I keep identifying with the many many many white male protagonists in stories. It's something I need to work on because A) it's unfair and B) it limits truly identifying important moments in film. The movie is called Gilda, which means I should be talking about Gilda. I love how we don't know much of Gilda and Johnny's life before Gilda arrives. We get the idea that they had a toxic relationship. Johnny had to learn that life of crime somewhere. But when Gilda enters the picture, Vidor paints this portrait of a jezebel willing to do anything and everything to get what she wants. When the movie reveals that Gilda is actually a saint, it makes the movie more compelling. But also, it brings up a big question of "Why?"
Why would she go after this guy? Johnny at the beginning of the movie isn't exactly a charmer. He looks gross (sorry, Glenn Ford. You'll always be my Jonathan Kent). He cheats and steals from American servicemen. By the time she sees him, he's a monster. Yet Gilda was ready to cross the ocean and marry a psychopath to get Johnny out from this world of crime. That's the way I have to read the movie. There's no other reason why she would fake all of those things if it wasn't to get Johnny out from this life of misery. But Johnny also believes that Gilda would do something like that. When the big reveal happens that "Gilda didn't do any of those things", he also accepts that. Which leaves the question...
Who is Gilda? I don't know if the movie can hold up weight under that question. It's a great question that the movie intentionally leaves unanswered. I've never seen a movie leave so much in the dark, seemingly on purpose. I understand why they didn't too. It all ties back to my Casablanca theory. One of the few things that these two movies don't share is the flashback sequence. We see Rick as a heroic character who had his heart broken in France. We understand after that moment the choices he makes in the present. He is broken so he's going to act broken. But Gilda needs to be the good guy of the story. Showing a different personality would kind of end the entire conceit right there. Similarly, Johnny has to be worthy of saving and I don't know if the movie has the gumption to do something like that. I can think of some things, but that would make them both pathetic and my imagination would probably be happy with a more ambiguous ending than a more concrete one.
Regardless, Gilda did it for me. I love the movies that have been catered for me. Usually when I deep dive into a genre, I have to wade through some absolute garbage, hence Kiss of Death. But getting a nice list of guaranteed good movies is fantastic. So what if I repeat a couple? I've seen my fair share. But I also acknowledge there's ones that I've never gotten around to and this class is really working for me.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.