Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #9: Showstopping (Scene from Gilda)

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Here's the first Daily Dose for this week. We introduce this week's theme "What Influenced Film Noir?" Today's clip is from Charles Vidor's 1946 film Gilda. This Daily Dose will be delivered Monday morning, June 15. Let the discussion begin!

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It's a bit of a stretch to call this song Jazz.  OK, Jazz was the popular music of the 1940s, and so a lot of noir is going to contain jazz or jazz influenced popular music.  It sounds to me closer to the kind of "strip tease" music you might here in a burlesque show.  Of course, that Gilda is doing is pretty close to a strip tease.  The shot where she lifts her arms over her head is done to make it look like she's not wearing anything (since you can't see the gown).  The only thing that stops her is the club manager.  In Noir parlance,   "she did a number on the Glenn Ford character".  There's also a bit of an echo, as she's about to describe herself using a very libidinous term when Glenn Ford slaps her.

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Hayworth is seducing the crowd with her performance, that just riles up Ford. The way she sways her body and uses her glove as a sort of prop, it entices the audience to her. She is trying to make Ford jealous and it works. Gilda has influenced film noir by putting musical sequences into to production. Musical numbers can really add to a movie and this one sure does. The song really relates to how Hayworth is feeling about her marriage to Ford, and that she isn't that happy.


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-- What did you notice about Rita Hayworth's performance when you were watching this scene?

 

Well for 1946 and the Hayes code it was probably pretty daring, probably pushed the envelope, the beginning of a striptease, By pre code standards it was tame.

 

-- What are some of the deeper layers of meaning that are contained in this film noir musical sequence?

 

It suggests strongly, without doubt, that Gilda was a bit of a wild woman, rebellious,  a bit of an extrovert, an exhibitionist who'll go beyond the edge of 1946 conventions, without much provocation.

 

-- In what ways do you think music influenced and contributed to the development of film noir?

 

As mentioned in pother posts contrary to popular belief the majority of film noir had orchestral string scores, not much different than other genres. The score "Street Scene" from Street Scene (1931) was an exception being used for I wake Up Screaming, The Dark Corner, Where The Sidewalk Ends, and a couple of others.  Jazz, Jive, Bebop, and a host of Latin styles were mostly used digetic-ly to enhance the world of the dark underbelly of society, in early Noirs like The Phantom Lady (1944). Jazz was referred in some circles to "the devil's music". Later Noirs of the fifties actually had jazzy scores (i.e. The Big Combo (1955)) which also migrated along with the Crime Genre to TV, these even were classified as "Crime Jazz", think the classic example, the theme for Peter Gunn.

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This clip contains what could be described as mild Jazz and not cutting edge dark Jazz that helped set the Film Noir era apart. This scene shows Rita in her element and she uses her sexual prowess to make a statement to Glen. But with the slap she understands that Glen cares for her more than she thought.

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The first time I saw this number I could hardly breathe. Rita Hayworth is so electrifying and stunning. Leading ladies in this era had a still, polished beauty. Their hair, makeup, wardrobe, and movements were perfect. Hayworth moves her hair and body with an abandon that mimics the recklessness of her actions in life.

 

There is almost a growing desperation in her seduction of the audience. This sense of spinning out of control is a key element in the noir character's journey, and is demonstrated so viscerally in this short and iconic sequence.

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What I noticed is that that musical number is extremely seductive for that time period. In se circles today, it would raise some eyebrows. This scene speaks to the little nuisances and trucks of the trade that the director had to employ to get his scene by code enforcement. In addition, she does not care about whether Johnny approves or not but that she is in control and will use her body and allure to illicit some type of reaction out of Glenn Ford's character.

More importantly, Gilda sees that her body can be used as a weapon that she can use against Johnny and though she is in this marriage that she will not be bound by the normal conventions of the time period.

As stated in the readings, this musical scene is not used as a break in the action but actually intensifies it because her performance almost causes a riot from men in the audience and, in addition, causes Glenn Ford's character to "lose his cool" to the point of physical violence. This further intensifies what is to come in the movie.

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If I listed components of film noir style, a musical number would certainly be near the bottom of that list. But in Gilda, this number certainly works as a plot device, and considering how red-hot Rita Hayworth was, it was no stretch of the imagination that she could have the entire room of men mesmerized (she always mesmerized me). So in place of a few exchanges of dialogue - although the lyrics were certainly appropriate - she lays the (ahem) cards on the table and Ford blows his jealous top.

 

And I would not call that "jazz" - musically, all you needed was the classic burlesque percussion riff (BUM-ba-ba-BUM) to match her bump-and-grind moves. She worked that room front and back - who knew Hayworth was the first twerker?

 

A couple of the close-ups were key. One showed her from just above the chest, all skin, which is how Ford was seeing her shame herself. When she whipped off the glove, her eyes (what a salacious leer!) were fixed on the back of the room - where we imagine Ford to be - as if saying "how about this, buddy?" Given our film standards today, if this movie were made in 2015, someone would definitely have worked that zipper.

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Through my 21st century jaded eyes, this seemed pretty tame.

I'm trying to imagine what it would have been like to see Rita Hayworth do this on the big screen in 1946.

It must have been quite risqué at the time, even though she does more teasing than stripping.

 

Glen Ford's slap, on the other hand, would be intolerable by today's standards. In 1946, I suspect the audience deemed it appropriate.

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Q: What did you notice about Rita Hayworth's performance when you were watching this scene?


A: You get the sense that Hayworth's character may have had a few drinks before this performance. As smooth as it is, she seems to be acting out. The striptease is very seductive, but you don't see very much. She removes two gloves and a necklace. It's kind of a metaphor that let's the audience know there is more to this character than has hitherto been revealed.


 


Q: What are some of the deeper layers of meaning that are contained in this film noir musical sequence?


A: As mentioned above, we only see a few "layers" removed, which connotes that there is more to this character (Gilda) than we think we know. The song is about a woman who was the cause of so much harm, especially to a man named McGrew. Will she also be the cause of harm to Johnny? Has she harmed other men?


 


Q: In what ways do you think music influenced and contributed to the development of film noir?


A: As with any film, music can set a tone, and in the case of Gilda, it can help tell a story and advance the narrative.


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I noticed that by 40s standards, it was a bit racy since she was starting to strip and would've continued stripping had she not been hustled away.

 

I haven't seen the film, but this definitely seems to tie in with classic noir themes like lust and jealousy.  I don't know a heterosexual male who wouldn't be attracted to Rita Hayworth watching that clip.  And Johnny's just watching a bunch of other guys go nuts over her.

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Gilda is one of the sexiest movies I've ever seen, and Rita Hayworth is the #1 reason for that. 

 

Watching the "Put the Blame on Mame" number, I get the sense that Gilda is acting out her sexual frustration and trying to get Johnny's attention. Up to this point, Johnny has been essentially neglecting Gilda for their mutual betrayal of her (presumably) deceased husband. 

 

While Gilda is doing the striptease and doing a damn good job at it, the closeups give a sense of vulnerability and sadness that mirror Gilda's feelings for Johnny and their tumultuous marriage. 

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The first thing that jumped out to me was the raw sexuality of it.  The song itself seems to be about how a woman's sexuality can affect the world around her. It's affect on men and as a force of nature itself.  The sequence seemed sado-masochistic to me.  The display was to inflict pain on Johnny and to elicit a violent, painful response in return.  To generalize, it looks at women as emotional/sexual actors/victims in the world as opposed to, say, Mildred Pierce as a practical/practical driver of plot and action, who also, interestingly enough was a victim.  

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I love music in film, it is so important with establishing the mood and can be so telling - the music in this scene is slow and seductive, but has a tinge of sadness just like Gilda.

 

Though I have not viewed this film before, this seems to be a scene of rebellion. Gilda seems to exercise her sexuality in a way that was intended to arouse the audience the most and therefore aggravate Glenn Ford's character. Especially at the end of the music number when she had a "look how many men want me" moment.

 

Her movements and facial expressions also make me wonder if she is intoxicated/under the influence of something and at the end of the scene it's pretty clear she is unhappy. The lyrics of the song are about blaming a woman for everything and I look forward to watching this film to see if this relates to the story at all.

 

Overall, I got the impression this scene was quite a big release for Gilda and a big public "screw you" to Glenn Ford's character.

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It's a bit of a stretch to call this song Jazz.  OK, Jazz was the popular music of the 1940s, and so a lot of noir is going to contain jazz or jazz influenced popular music.  It sounds to me closer to the kind of "strip tease" music you might here in a burlesque show.  Of course, that Gilda is doing is pretty close to a strip tease.  The shot where she lifts her arms over her head is done to make it look like she's not wearing anything (since you can't see the gown).  The only thing that stops her is the club manager.  In Noir parlance,   "she did a number on the Glenn Ford character".  There's also a bit of an echo, as she's about to describe herself using a very libidinous term when Glenn Ford slaps her.

While Jazz, both 'real' and pop jazz figurer prominently in noir movies.  I think the real point is the expressive qualities to whatever musical genre is employed as a soundtrack.  The use of abrasive tonalities, daring rhythmic motives and dissonant melodies really seem to dominate the musical scores.

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Elmore Leonard, a later crime writer than those who influenced the early noir filmmakers, admonished fiction writers to leave out the boring parts, the parts that readers skip over.

 

One of the powerful effects of film noir is that the interaction between characters often cuts to the heart of human conduct, leaving out the boring parts.

 

This scene from "Gilda" exemplifies that. The Hayworth character's performance on stage is interesting and intriguing as a stand-alone moment, but it's what happens after the song that makes viewers keep watching -- the violent interaction leading to a promise of broken relationships, of disappointment, of betrayal.  

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As is stated in the Curator's Note: for first daily dose of the week, this musical number is definitely not a break in the film's action sequence, it adds another layer of depth in Gilda's desperateness to get to Johnny.  Gilda's trying any resort possible to get to Johnny to unlock the core of him that she once knew.  This sequence seethes with undertones.  Gilda figures by flaunting what Johnny keeps insinuating she is, will just be too much for him.  She's trying to break him, elicit a response,  any response from Johnny.   The music, combined with her actions, delivery and words, explode on stage, and the film audience just waits for the Johnny's response.  This is film noir at it's best, as it's quite a suspenseful build which the audience knows is going to rupture. 

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The first thing that I really notice is how RH voice drew JF's attention. Then how he rudely pushed a woman out of the way to see her. The dance is provocative, & a real mojo. I've read that when Miss H was married to Ali Khan, this was the scene that drew him to her. Miss H was nothing like Gilda, she was shy & withdrawn. Mr. K had to periodically view this scene to revive his interest in her. Next JF roughly handles her, out of anger, because she's tormenting him by acting provocative. He's embarrassed because all the boys will think that he hooked up with a 'Ho that any man can have, proven by how they rush to unzip her dress to expose her breasts. Mame certainly did add to the story, censors in the day would not have permitted a regular woman to act like that to get the idea across. But a nightclub act, well.......

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Has anyone ever watched Cab Callaway sing “Minnie the Moocher”? He struts and he hunches over in his zoot suit, his knees are bent his shoulders are slouched. This is what Rita Hayworth was doing during the first part of the song. She does all of the Cab Calloway stuff AND a bit of hip protruding and arms spread open, insinuating sex. The most obvious sexual allusion is when she pulls her hair up and holds it in place with her arms. Now, any dancer who is on a stage in front of an audience would never pull such a move as that because it would look really odd to the audience in the club. It would not translate very well live. But, that move was not for the audience in the club, that move was for the close up shot that the camera was capturing. That was to make it look as though she might be in bed having sex. And that pose and her movements during that pose, in a close up frame, did resemble that. I imagine the people seeing this on a big screen for the first time in the movie theater must have been put in to a real dither after that performance.

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Has anyone ever watched Cab Callaway sing “Minnie the Moocher”? He struts and he hunches over in his zoot suit, his knees are bent his shoulders are slouched. This is what Rita Hayworth was doing during the first part of the song. She does all of the Cab Calloway stuff AND a bit of hip protruding and arms spread open, insinuating sex. The most obvious sexual allusion is when she pulls her hair up and holds it in place with her arms. Now, any dancer who is on a stage in front of an audience would never pull such a move as that because it would look really odd to the audience in the club. It would not translate very well live. But, that move was not for the audience in the club, that move was for the close up shot that the camera was capturing. That was to make it look as though she might be in bed having sex. And that pose and her movements during that pose, in a close up frame, did resemble that. I imagine the people seeing this on a big screen for the first time in the movie theater must have been put in to a real dither after that performance.

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Rita's performance was very sexual with lots of hip movements. and how she danced in a very inviting way. The lyrics saying "to put the blame on Mame" is very evocative of the Femme Fatale archetype, how Men are continually ruined by a strange and wild woman. The meaning I see is how she is a temptress entrancing the audience towards a path of darkness. She even jokes about stripping off her dress at the end of the song. As for music in that time Jazz was the dark underground often with drugs and music involved in that time. So Jazz added to the style and edge to keep the audiences on their toes.

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What stood out to me was the satin in Rita Hayworth's dress!  In film noir, I notice all the luxurious textures--they seem to be in stark contrast to the grit and the cruelty.  Same could be said for jazz music.  Jazz sounds like ease and sophistication.  I loved this scene.  I'm not sure I've ever seen someone dance quite like this.  There seems to be a contrast between how loose her movement is and how tightly-wound the drama and central action of a film noir can be.

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