Though Rita Hayworth was already a star in 1946 when Gilda was released it was this film that firmly cemented her as a timeless sex symbol and an American cultural icon. Gilda is a classic of film noir and it remains eminently enjoyable to this day. Staring Hayworth, Glen Ford and George Macready, Gilda is the story of a South American casino owner who hires a cheating street thug as his pit boss. Ballin (Macready in one of his most chilling and memorable roles) entrusts Johnny (Ford) with the day to day operations of the casino while he takes a vacation. Everything goes smoothly until Ballin returns with a new wife (Rita Hayworth in the title role.) It soon becomes apparent that Johnny and Gilda have some sort of history and that plot point drives the narrative forward into a rather convoluted area that eventually resolves itself in a surprise ending.
The plot of Gilda is secondary to the atmosphere created by the three principals and Director Charles Vidor's remarkable cinematography. The three main characters form a triangle of ciphers, each representing a distinct psychological state. Macready is the cold, calculating menace whose motivation is tied to jealousy and a desire for revenge. Ford represents willful ego and comes across as a dangerous man who might do anything to protect his own interests. Between these two men is Hayworth, the independent woman who uses her sexuality as a weapon.
Though the character of Ballin is interesting it's Johnny and Gilda that captivate the audience and provide the meat of the movie. Johnny and Gilda have a classic love-hate relationship so volatile that it nearly jumps off the screen. The tension between these two actors is almost palpable. At any given moment they could as easily chew each other out and come to blows or fall into each other's arms and spend the night together.
The lasting impression Gilda leaves though is of the smoldering sexuality of Rita Hayworth. This film was a perfect vehicle for the well-known pinup girl and the actress and director use her sensuality to prime effect. Rita is absolutely gorgeous and desirable in every frame of Gilda, particularly in the famous 'Put the Blame on Mame' scene in which she performs what has come to be known as the dressed strip tease.
The Columbia Classics series is a little inconsistent when it comes to video presentation. On the one hand there are fabulous transfers like the one on His Girl Friday and on the other are fairly middle of the road jobs like the one on this disc. Like his Girl Friday, Gilda was restored by Sony pictures in conjunction with the UCLA Film and Television Archive and the Library of Congress. The result is somewhat less than spectacular. The film is in very good shape but there are many instances of instability in the frame, scratches, pinholes and fading. Though the contrast is good the black level is a touch too deep leading to a lack of adequate shadow detail and some stretches of the film have a distinctly fuzzy and out of focus look. That being said Gilda looks better here than I've ever seen it and though the transfer has problems they shouldn't cause you to shy away from this disc.
The Dolby mono soundtrack does a good job of presenting the dialogue and score of Gilda. The dynamic range is limited but surprisingly rich. There was no distortion or clipping and only a minimum of hiss.
There are a handful of interesting extras on this disc but not enough to make this a true special edition. First up is a collection of one-sheet posters for the film. You scroll through these interesting images using the buttons on your remote. Next there's a set of extensive text screens containing production notes, cast and crew bios and select filmographies. In addition to these is a collection of trailers for Gilda and other Columbia Classic releases. Finally there's a clip (about ten minutes long) from a Columbia documentary that deals with the career of Rita Hayworth. The clip is very interesting and enlightening but so short that it leaves you wanting much more.
Gilda is an established classic that should find a welcome home in the collection of any film fan. The disc gives a reasonable presentation of the movie that won't disappoint the vast majority of fans. My only complaint with Gilda is its lack of meaningful extra content. I highly recommend Gilda.