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May 04, 2007

Gilda

gilda 1.jpg

Charles Vidor - 1946
Columbia Region 1 DVD

A couple days after what would have been Glenn Ford's 91st birthday, I had the chance to see Gilda again. I'm not sure if I can really articulate Ford's appeal other than that he was, at least on screen, a likable guy in generally likable films. I would not be surprised if a good portion of the most recent Oscar audience had faint idea who Ford was when the memorial montage played, his last major film appearance being in the 1978 version of Superman. Sure, there was respectful applause, but most viewers and not a few Academy members were probably aware that there was a time, about forty-five years ago, when signing Glenn Ford was a guarantee of getting the green light from the studios.

On the downside, Ford managed to star in three major flops almost in succession. The films in question, Cimarron, Pocketful of Miracles, and Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, were all big budget remakes helmed by directors at or near the close of their careers. Anthony Mann's was hurt least by the last and least of his Westerns, Capra's film barely earned a pocketful of money, and Minnelli's film was such an expensive catastrophe that after a second film with Ford, and a re-teaming with Elizabeth Taylor, he no longer made films for MGM, his contract fulfilled grudgingly by his longtime studio.

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Gilda is of course famous for Ford's first teaming with Rita Hayworth. What had interested me was that the film also marked Ford's first work with Rudolph Mate, working here as a cinematographer. I had written about two films Ford and Mate made together with Mate as director last year. I'm not familiar enough with Charles Vidor to identify themes or visual styles. What is interesting about Gilda, visually, is the use of putting the characters in shadow. One fantastic image is of George Macready seen in silouette. I had forgotten that Gilda takes place almost entirely at night. George Macready's mansion is filmed to resemble a gothic castle. The size and emptiness of the mansion is conveyed when the tiny figure of Rita Hayworth walks away from Ford and Macready to her bedroom.

Ford still looked a bit to baby-faced to convincingly play the grubby, unshaven gambler in the opening shots of Gilda. Even shaved and dressed in a suit, Ford looked a little too fresh to portray someone as cynical as the character of Johnny Farrell. Gilda could be seen as Glenn Ford practicing his screen persona. That practice payed off in the films Ford starred in, particularly in the period between The Big Heat and The Money Trap. Rita Hayworth had a cameo appearance in The Money Trap, but it's hard to watch her without thinking about her torturing Glenn Ford with the removal of one glove in their first film together.

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Posted by peter at May 4, 2007 02:26 AM

Comments

I just can't get excited about Glenn Ford, even when he is adequate in an excellent movie, as he is here. Far more memorable is George Macready: "You'd be surprised to hear a woman sing in my house." Even the subtext has subtext in Gilda.

Posted by: Campaspe at May 11, 2007 02:46 PM