Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for Rita Hayworth. You are forewarned.
Gilda, Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready, Columbia Pictures, 1946
No, this will not be a paean to the virtues of the modern women’s movement and to the women liberation struggle that I have spilled much worthwhile ink arguing for in this space. Let’s place it more as an off-the-cuff social commentary on bourgeois society and the sometimes obscure way that its values get transmitted even to those who oppose, and oppose vehemently, its existence although they are not inured to the pull of some of its (historical progressive) charms. But enough of introductory justification, let us get to the heart of the matter- a film review of 1940s “hot” (you can see where I am going with this already) film star Rita Hayworth in her most famous film, the film noir classic, Gilda, and the men, the legions of men in the film and in the audience, including this writer, whom she had (or, in my case, could have had) jumping through hoops (and much more, gladly).
Now the last time that devilishly sweet-smiling, buttery-voiced, long-legged, big-haired(heck, that's the best I can do, I don't know what they called that style but other "hot" 1940s women stars like Lauren Bacall and Veronica Lake wore it that way too), been around the block and is still standing, femme fatale, relentlessly sexual, very relentlessly sexual, Rita’s name came up for this writer was when her photograph, just her big blow-up photo nothing more, was used to cover (literally) actor Tim Robbins’ escape route in the film, The Shawshank Redemption. Of course, that flash got me to thinking about the film Gilda and there you have it. So naturally I had to see the thing, again. I have had to wait until now though to write this little commentary until my doctor said that my blood pressure had gone down enough to do so.
Here are the high points of the plot quickly. Down and out American expatriate fellaheen, Johnny Farrow (played by Glenn Ford), finds himself in Buenos Aires doing, well, doing the best he can. Sometimes though doing the best one can, when down and out at the lumpen edges of society is risky, very risky, and not just in Buenos Aires, as the French writers Genet and Celine can tell you. Up steps “savior” Ballin, illegal night club owner, power-monger and all-around megalomaniac (played by icy George Macready) to offer job, companionship and advice. Most importantly, on the advice front, that gambling and women don’t mix, especially for up-and-coming managerial prospects. Naturally, that advice goes by the boards when femme fatale Gilda (off film) marries one totally enchanted megalomaniac Ballin. That’s one hoopster corralled. Turns out though that Johnny and Gilda know each other and had previously held the "torch" for each other. Well, to make the story short, the rest of the “boy meets girl” action is spent with old Johnny denying on three (maybe more) bibles that he is over, done with, finished with, couldn’t care less about, is not smitten with, Gilda. Maybe. Ya, there goes another hoopster down.
As we know, which was very routine for 1940s (and now, for that matter, see Avatar) “boy meets girl” films in the end things will work out, although it was close for a while here. Ballin, despite his off-hand desire to rule the world, was so smitten with Gilda that he could not think straight. Johnny was so smitten with Gilda that he could not think straight. The 1940s male audience was so smitten with Gilda that they could not think straight. The modern male audience is so smitten with Gilda that it cannot think straight (oops). And it is just not me, old as I am. I showed a picture of Rita Hayworth to some young leftist male college students once, and they were drooling just like I was. So there are the rest of your hoopsters.
Now where does all this lead. Simply this, or maybe not so simply, in the course of human relationships there are people (there are many permutations) you will jump through hoops for and for no known reason (dare I say rational reason?). I have done it more times than I care to admit, and gladly. That is what makes the millions of possible relationships that humankind has run through so interesting, even within the limitations of bourgeois society. Well, I have to finish this thing up. And here is how. Leon Trotsky, the great Russian Bolshevik revolutionary leader, according to his best biographer Isaac Deutscher, once stated that of the three great tragedies of human existence, hunger, sex, and death that revolutionaries had, necessarily, to concentrate on the struggle against hunger but that under a more equitable socialist society the other two would be dealt with in a much better manner. Let us hope so. Meanwhile we hoopsters have our Gildas. And that is just fine. Oh, did I mention that among Rita’s other charms that she could sing (well, lip-sync, being able to sing is overrated anyway, don't you think? ), dance, and strum a guitar. Wait, I have to stop now I feel that old blood pressure rising again.