When Sister Celluloid and Movies Silently announced their “Try It, You’ll Like It” blogathon, I had to decide which noir picture could draw in the most diverse audience possible, even those who don’t like the style/genre. I quickly decided on 1946’s Gilda.
It’s a lush, gorgeous film–well directed and well acted–from Rita Hayworth in all her Hollywood-fashioned splendor to a brilliantined Glenn Ford and a wickedly dapper George Macready. It features mayhem and murder, love gone bad, slinky musical numbers, and even a kind of happy ending. And it questions in proto-feminist fashion how we decide a woman is a femme fatale and whether the men in noir who love such women are as straight as Hollywood pretends they are. If Gilda isn’t textbook noir, it’s certainly a commentary on textbook noir, and for me that’s a tempting way to get the apathetic or anti-noir crowd to watch.
This said, my desire to pitch Gilda for this blogathon was always complicated by knowledge of Hayworth’s difficult life–from abuse by her father as a pre-teen to abuse by husbands and Hollywood studio execs. She hated Hollywood even as she needed it, was shy and reclusive if given the opportunity, fought insecurity and an inability to truly live as an independent adult, and then she got early onset Alzheimer’s. When I recently listened to the Rita Hayworth/Orson Welles episode of the You Must Remember This podcast, my strange love of the film as a commentary on film noir as well as Hayworth’s life became even more complex. In this context, I can’t help but ask myself, should we enjoy Gilda? Hayworth didn’t want to make it, that much is certain. There’s so much suffering both in film content and production context. Yet, perhaps that makes it even more important, more poignant.
In the end, I must leave it to viewers to see for themselves. I’m certain that the “Try It, You’ll Like It” label still applies. But after you try it and like it, read up on Hayworth’s life and appreciate the film anew as a commentary on gender, race, and women’s lives in classic Hollywood.