Charles Vidor's classic noir film Gilda has fascinated both audiences and critics since its release in 1946. Set in wartime Argentina, the film stars Rita Hayworth in her best-remembered role, as the title character, Gilda, caught in a love triangle between tough casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready) and professional gambler Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford).
Gilda's success had a long-lasting impact on Hayworth's career and her star persona: 'Blame it on Mame', the song that she performs in the film, was the best-selling song of 1946, and the atomic bomb tested on Bikini atoll on 1 July 1946 was named 'Gilda' and had a picture of Hayworth on the side. Hayworth later complained that, such was her identification with the role, that 'men went to bed with Gilda and woke up with me'.
Melvyn Stokes' study of the film provides an in-depth account of its production history, and, through an examination of its plot, formal devices such as the use of a voice-over narrator, mise-en-scene and preoccupation with sexual perversity, tackles the issue of the film's generic status - is it a true film noir?
Stokes also places Hayworth's performance in the title role in the context of her film career and star persona, focusing on her complicated ethnic identity and her journey from the brunette Spanish/Irish actress Margaret Carmen Cansino to the auburn-haired movie star 'Rita Hayworth'.
Stokes addresses the film's political context - its setting in an Argentina that had recently entered the war on the Allied side, with a sub-plot involving Nazi skulduggery, and the extent to which the film responded to and reflected social concerns about relations between men and women, female sexuality and masculine identities that had been transformed by the dislocations of wartime and the anxieties of the immediate post-war period.
Stokes's illuminating account of the film ends with a discussion of its reception history, and its importance for film-makers, critics and scholars as well as its audiences.