1946’s Gilda paired Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth onscreen for the second time.
Of the five films Glenn and Rita made together, Gilda is certainly the most iconic.
You can rent or purchase Gilda here on Amazon [aff. link].
Let’s go through the plot, then behind the scenes of this classic film noir.
Gilda: The Plot
Gilda is set in Buenos Aires. Glenn Ford is Johnny Farrell, an American gambler/hooligan who’s somehow still a likable guy. Johnny wins big cheating at craps one night. He’s saved from a mugging on his way home when a mysterious German stranger, Ballin Mundson (George Macready), comes to Johnny’s assistance with his super cool cane-knife thing—literally a cane with a knife that comes out the bottom.
Ballin and Johnny basically become best friends on the spot, and soon Johnny is working at Ballin’s high-end casino as a bouncer/bodyguard. Since Ballin is kind of insane and has a whole bunch of really shady business dealings, he needs guys around that he can trust. And Ballin trusts Johnny.
One day after a business trip, Ballin comes back to Buenos Aires with a new bride.
But there’s a complication. His new bride, Gilda (Rita Hayworth), happens to be Johnny’s former flame.
We soon realize from the sizzling verbal exchanges and obvious physical attraction between Johnny and Gilda that they’re still in love with each other. We also learn that the relationship ended when Johnny thought Gilda was unfaithful to him. He walked out on her, leading Gilda to marry Ballin on the rebound.
A real love-hate triangle develops between Johnny, Gilda, and Ballin.
Ballin senses that Gilda and Johnny are in love, and he seems to get some weird enjoyment from testing their loyalty to him by putting them alone together in tempting situations.
Hate vs. Love
And with Johnny and Gilda, sometimes it’s hard to tell which is stronger: their love for each other, or their hate for each other. As Gilda and Ballin both say at various points in the film:
“Hate can be a very exciting emotion.”
Gilda director Charles Vidor does everything he can to drive that point home.
Watch the film to find out which emotion is ultimately stronger.
“I Became a Star when I Slapped Rita Hayworth.”
Gilda was the film that finally made Glenn Ford a star.
Ford had been making films for eight years before his turn as Johnny Farrell. Putting his career on hold to serve in World War II further postponed Glenn’s ascent to stardom, but 1946 proved his lucky year, with both Gilda with Rita Hayworth, and A Stolen Life with Bette Davis, proving his star power.
Glenn himself attributed most of the credit to Gilda. As Glenn put it,
“I became a star when I slapped Rita Hayworth.”
Yes, Glenn Ford slaps Rita Hayworth across the face in Gilda. It was all part of Glenn’s new masculine, tough guy image.
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Ford’s New Tough-Guy Image in Gilda
Glenn’s new image—he was more mature, masculine, muscular, and rough in Gilda than he had been in his pre-WWII films—was so popular with female viewers that The Bobby Soxers of America voted him 1946’s “Man of the Year.” (Previous winners included Frank Sinatra.)
In other words, teens, and women in general, now thought that Glenn Ford was hot.
The Hayworth/Ford Chemistry
The chemistry between Rita and Glenn in Gilda is electric. It’s a far cry from their pairing a few years earlier in The Lady in Question (1940), when the two actors were so stiff, director Charles Vidor had to loosen them up with double martinis before their love scenes.
Vidor also directed Glenn and Rita in Gilda. But on this film, double martinis were no longer necessary. By 1946, Glenn and Rita were both more experienced actors. And, their previous film work together made them comfortable with one another. As Glenn said about reuniting with Rita on Gilda:
“We just got along so well and became the closest friends right away. We were both fairly new parents—her daughter, Rebecca, was only two months older than my son—so we had a lot of the same problems and joys, and we each did a lot of bragging about our kids. We traded complaints about Harry Cohn [Columbia studio head]. I would tease her about her new sexpot image. We had a lot of laughs.”
In his book on his father, Peter Ford shares [aff. link] that life soon imitated art, and it was while making Gilda that his father and Rita first became physically intimate. Glenn and Rita would be intimate on and off over the years, but their friendship remained constant until Rita’s passing in 1987.
Gilda: "A Happy Miracle"
On its release in the spring of 1946, Gilda was a huge success, earning $3.75 million at the box office.
According to Peter Ford, [aff. link], though the cast and crew had a feeling Gilda was a winner during production,
“Like some of Hollywood’s best remembered films, Gilda was a kind of happy miracle, a film in part made up as they went along. As in the making of Casablanca, there was sometimes no idea where the story might go on a given morning…Virginia Van Upp’s [producer and screenwriter] continuing rewrites and new pages often delivered only hours before filming forced the actors to stay spontaneous and fresh.”