Blu-ray Review: Criterion's GILDA Offers Caged Beauty
Many things have been written by plenty of film historians and critics on the essential film Gilda, the 1946 classic directed by Charles Vidor. Is it a drama or does it rest solely in the genre of film noir? Was Rita Hayworth's Gilda an example of a femme fatale or was she a pawn being used by the two men in her life, Ballin (George Macready) and Johnny (Glenn Ford) as they further their intense personal and working lives?
Does it matter? The new Criterion Collection blu-ray will serve audiences who side with any of the above arguments. The fact is, Gilda is one of the more important films to come out of the 1940s. Like many films of that era, it skirted with disaster when it came to Hays Code (officially known as the Motion Picture Production Code) restrictions, but deftly managed to get in an enormous amount of sexual innuendo and forbidden subjects --- namely homosexuality.
In addition to the fantastic restoration of the film, one of the specialities that Criterion trades in is its supplements; there's an illuminating interview with film noir historian Eddie Muller that delves into exactly those innuendos and witticisms that abound in Gilda that I highly recommend.
Watching this film will make you appreciate just how well-written older films really are, and I'm not just talking about metaphors and tongue-in-cheek humor. The intricacy of plot and character development are top-notch. Combined with old-school glamor and photography, it's no wonder that scores of people idolize Old Hollywood. Of course, there's a lot from the era not to like, too. Women were often treated as property, and when they loudly objected to being treated as such, they could be slapped around, verbally abused, and sometimes, virtually imprisoned. This is what happens to Gilda when she dares to escape the omnipresent gaze of both her husband and his enforcer/manager, as well as when she tries to escape marriage from both men.
While there is that historical remnant to deal with, we can at least be grateful that Virginia Van Upp was brought in by Columbia Pictures head honcho Harry Cohn to produce the film. She apparently protected Hayworth from being treated as a piece of meat in a similar fashion as her character was while on set, and pushed for the character to have her trademark independent nature and verve. It's also said that Van Upp, a former script reader, casting director, and screenwriter promoted to Executive Producer of Columbia, had several elements directly drawn from the ongoing drama of Cohn's life to bring Gilda to life. Cohn reportedly treated Hayworth as personal property, a brash personality, as well as ties to organized crime.
In addition, it's always a treat to watch filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann discuss what influenced them or made them really think about cinema; Criterion's supplement of the two of them (shot separately) intercuts their interviews with clips from the film. "The Odyssey of Rita Hayworth," a 1964 episode of the television show Hollywood And The Stars is a time capsule; it's honestly hilarious and quite fun to watch, namely because of the antiquated copy that the announcer reads about Hayworth and her supreme status as a "love goddess." There are even marker cards for commercials that I wish actually had the commercials left in for more added time-traveling value.
I was a little shocked to see the film presented in a 1.33:1 (4:3/full-screen) format; however, a note on the transfer in the included insert states that this was the original aspect ratio, and that the transfer was taken directly from the original camera negative. For widescreen TVs, this results in a pillar-boxed presentation (black bars on the sides), but you quickly get used to it. Audio quality is as good as it can be, as hisses, crackles, clicks, thumps, and hums were removed digitally in ProTools. The picture quality is on par with the audio; blacks are deep, grays and whites are crisp, and there's only minor flickering and small blemishes in some parts.
I can't imagine that there is a better edition of Gilda available. Cheers to Criterion for its excellent restoration.
Blu-ray special edition features:
- New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- Audio commentary from 2010 by film critic Richard Schickel
- New interview with film noir historian Eddie Muller
- Piece from 2010 featuring filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann discussing their appreciation for Gilda
- "The Odyssey of Rita Hayworth," a 1964 episode of the television show Hollywood And The Stars
- PLUS: An essay by critic Sheila O'Malley with reversible fold-out Gilda poster
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