Monday, January 21, 2019

Betrayed by Rita Hayworth? Or Hollywood? (A Film Review, of Sorts)

While I’ve always enjoyed movies, it’s not an obsession so that, on occasion, something comes to my attention that I hadn’t noticed (or only barely knew of) before. That was the case on Saturday night, when our local PBS station showed director Charles Vidor’s Gilda, the film that made Rita Hayworth a star.
Filmed in late 1945 and released in 1946, Gilda is a noirish drama that aroused my interest because its ostensible setting is Buenos Aires, where small-time gambler Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) becomes the right-hand man of corrupt casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready), newly married to the stunning Gilda (Hayworth) who—unbeknownst to Mundson—has an ambivalent history with his new employee.
Palermo's Hipódromo offers casino slots today, but probably not in the 1940s.
I won’t comment further on the plot, because I want to focus on the movie’s presentation of Argentina and its capital. In the first instance, it’s worth noting that, when Mundson first invites Farrell to his casino, he provides him a “key” because casinos were not legal in the city. This rings true because that’s still the case—there are casinos in the provincial suburbs, but not in the capital except for the floating Casino Buenos Aires (two vessels docked at Puerto Madero) and some slot machines in the Hipódromo Argentino de Palermo, where betting on horse races is legal (I doubt that the Hipódromo had slots in 1945). Other than that, there are only a few bingo parlors.
As the Hotel Centenario, the Palacio Vera was an ostensible location in Gilda (photo by Julieta Sol Narganes, Creative Commons)
Most of the film’s action takes place in building interiors—there’s a brief soundtrack moment of tango and a nod to Carnaval—with almost nothing to suggest the streetscapes of Argentina’s capital (so far as I can tell, the entire film was shot in Hollywood in just three months). One ostensible location is the Hotel Centenario, which then occupied the Palacio Vera, an Art Nouveau structure on the central Avenida de Mayo that dates from 1910. Again, though, the movie does not even offer an image of the building's exterior.

Though the Brooklyn-born Hayworth herself was a Hispanic woman (her father was a Spaniard), she does not play one in this movie. At one point she flees to Montevideo, across the river, but again the only scenes of Uruguay’s capital are interiors.
Argentina Brunetti was one of two Argentines with bit parts in Gilda.
The Hungarian-born Vidor introduces the theme of Argentina’s World War II dark side in the person of two German mining cartel members who frequent the casino. The ostensible Argentines are few, including a police detective played by the Maltese actor Joseph Calleia and another policeman played by Manhattan-born Gerald Mohr, and a washroom attendant played by the Ukrainian Steven Geray. Two Argentines play bit parts: the Buenos Aires-born Argentina Brunetti, who appeared in many Hollywood movies in the 1950s and 1960s, and Jack del Río, best known as the fourth husband of pop singer Peggy Lee.
The late Argentine novelist was a movie geek.
That’s not to dismiss Gilda as a film, but I suspect it could have been even better had it been filmed on location (a remake might be interesting). Who knows, could that be one reason that the late Manuel Puig titled his first novel Betrayed by Rita Hayworth?

Gilda is available on several streaming services.

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