Classic noir film explores themes of judgement and jealousy
“I’ve got some news for you, Johnny. I’m going to do exactly what I please, when I please. I was true to one man once, hmmm…and look what happened.”
One of the most iconic quotes from one of the most iconic films of the 1940’s, this quote explains the dark yet playful film well. Gilda is filled to the brim with tension, violence, and one of the most important femme-fatales the silver screen has ever borne witness to.
The film opens in Buenos Aires, Argentina with thug and small time gambler Johnny Farrell (played by Glenn Ford) cheating at cards to win a larger sum of money. When he’s discovered by the casino’s owner, Ballin Mundson, (played by George Macready) Farrell is brought before Mundson to plead his case. Johnny Farrell is a persuasive character and succeeds in convincing Mundson to give him a job. Soon after Farrell’s hiring, he encounters the beguiling Gilda, the wife of his new boss, Ballin Mundson. The plot becomes tense and complicated after this chance meeting because, unbeknownst to her husband Ballin, Gilda and Johnny Farrell have a romantic history.
One of the largest themes in the film Gilda is jealousy and its role in a romantic relationship. Throughout the film, we see jealousy take its toll in many of the relationships portrayed. From Gilda and Johnny, to Johnny and Ballin, each relationship in this film is wildly possessive which forces the audience to consider the ramifications of jealousy. The relationship that is examined the most throughout the film is the one between Johnny Farrell and Gilda. A deeply complex love/hate dichotomy, Johnny and Gilda take the phrase “it’s complicated” to an entirely new depth. Each partner madly in love with the other, their desire for ownership of the other person is what causes their love to boil into resentment.
Another major theme from Gilda is the all too common habit of judging a person’s inside by their outside. While it is true that the archetype of femme-fatale doesn’t save much room for kindness, it is unfair of Johnny Farrell to treat Gilda poorly based solely on her high-spirited personality and his perception of her reputation. If every viewer of this film perceived Gilda in the same way Farrell does, the audience would never understand her enough to even realize her depth and value as a character.
All in all, Gilda is a tense and complex film full of murky plot lines and flawless cinematography. One of the factors that sets Gilda apart from other movies in the genre is the hard edge of violence running throughout the film. At one point, Johnny slaps Gilda for purposely humiliating him in public and this further reinforces the film’s commentary on possession in relationships. Even if there is a happy ending for Gilda and Johnny, they cannot truly be content because of their drive to own their partner. Like much of the film noir genre, Gilda has complexities that only come to light when the audience is willing to see them.