Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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The music starts just as Johnny says, "I'll have to take a look sometime."  With the impeccable timing only found in film, he opens the blind and takes a look and is dumbstruck by what he sees.

Rita Hayworth plays this scene for all it's worth.  Her movements are not just sexy, they're sexy with the intent of looking cheap and tawdry.  Hayworth is an expert dancer, yet her gyrations are flawed, overdone.  She flips her hair, messing it up (which is unheard of in the world of film!), then continues to mess it up further by running her hands through it.  When the song is finished, Gilda is not.  She goads the men in the audience, saying she needs help with the zipper on her dress.  She's involving all of them, leaving none as innocent bystanders.  Gilda is an intentionally careless woman, bent on doing whatever comes to mind, with no concern for the messes she will create for herself or anyone else.  She seems to thrive on the chaos she causes.

 

The song puts words to the picture created by the careless dance.  Mame is a dangerous woman, leaving a path of destruction in her wake.  Put the blame on her, but she won't change her behavior, and more importantly she won't care.  The music of the song is interesting:  The vocal is soft, almost sultry.  But the instrumental is brassy and blaring.  You may be fooled at first that this woman is lovely perfection incarnate, but eventually she's going to blast your life away, just as she has so many others before you.  And when she's done with you, she's going to move on to the next guy.

 

The slap at the end - I think Johnny slaps her because he can't stand for her to voice the horrible things he's thinking about his own wife.  And she's shocked?  She plays it up as the cheap floozy, then verbally goads him - Yes, Johnny, I'd slap her, too.   ;)

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Provocative? I'll say. Sexy? You bet? Tempting? And. ..but... somehow there's some other emotion or feeling that runs through her performance. She acts out of control. Drunk? Perhaps. Unlike many a performer who is trying it be sexy and you see right away that he/she is acting, I don't get that feeling here. She is trying and succeeding at really projecting an animal attraction. She's stopped by  manager or someone from the club but what (or who) really stops her is Glenn Ford and the slap that completely breaks her down. The heat and beat and passion of jazz set this scene and create a tension that ends suddenly with a slap. Film noir slaps around our reality suddenly, boldly, and with the timing of a jazz combo.

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I agree with many of the comments so far and really don't have anything to add except that I have never seen this movie, or if I have it was many, many years ago so I'm off to see if I can find it somewhere to watch tonight. 

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The music, the emotions, the changes taking place in the world at this time were all unsettling as is the performance in this clip.  It seems straightforward at first, she is a singer doing a provocative number to get someone's attention, but it turns deadly serious when she says she isn't good with zippers and suddenly men are rushing up and pawing at her.  The person whose attention she is seeking is certainly caught by the act.  Their interaction is far from what you would think, if she were trying to seduce him it didn't work.  It becomes obvious that that was not her intent, she has some other motive for her action.  I can hardly wait to see the entire film. 

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

Gilda looks loose and looped.  Liquid courage, perhaps, to get her through a striptease in a swank, upscale night club.  Rita Hayworth gives us a provocative peel – shocking and titillating for movie goers who would get a shot of her gloved arms holding up her hair with no sign of the iconic black dress – larger than life on a movie palace screen.  Censors breathing fire and the audience inhaling her sensuality.

 

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

Doris Fisher’s and Allan Roberts’ bluesy jazz number lays the blame on Mame for the New York City blizzard, the Chicago fire, and the San Francisco earthquake – heavy disasters to lay on Gilda’s bared shoulders.  Gilda does bear them, as well as any other sins or ills imagined by Johnny.  There’s power in her performance, as well.  Whether or not she is a woman who can be had for a price, she’ll let everyone believe it to undermine Johnny’s reputation.

 

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

Music needed to reflect the gritty, dark, unseemliness of film noir.  Jazz did.

“Harlem Nocturne” written by Earle Hagen and Dick Rogers in 1939.  Johnny Otis’ rendition.

 

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I don't think I would consider Put the Blame on Mame an example of jazz on film. This is more of a big band era tune, musically anyway. The lyrics are what takes this song into noir territory. I'm not a music historian; this is just my opinion. True, jazz is important in a lot of films noir. I can't think of an example off the top of my head, but I've seen a number of films which feature jazz combos and the musicians are listed in the screen credits along with the actors. The same is true of big band musicians. In another film genre, think of the Gene Krupa number in Ball of Fire. (Although I guess you could consider Ball of Fire a screwball comedy with noir overtones, given the Barbara Stanwyck character's association with crime and the underworld). Anybody have examples of bands--jazz or other--that get screen credit?

 

The most noir element of this musical number to me is the lyrics. The lyrics describe the femme fatale role that is so often a key element in films noir. Put the Blame on Mame, cherche la femme, find the woman...however you want to put it, the point is that where this is evil, corruption, crime, or immorality, you can bet your bottom dollar that a woman is behind it all. In noir films even honest, upstanding, straight American males have little defense against the sexual allure of conniving females. Overt feminine sexuality threatens the conventional morality of the community.

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I don't think I would consider Put the Blame on Mame an example of jazz on film.

 

True, jazz is important in a lot of films noir.

 

The most noir element of this musical number to me is the lyrics. The lyrics describe the femme fatale role that is so often a key element in films noir. Put the Blame on Mame, cherche la femme, find the woman...however you want to put it, the point is that where this is evil, corruption, crime, or immorality, you can bet your bottom dollar that a woman is behind it all. In noir films even honest, upstanding, straight American males have little defense against the sexual allure of conniving females. Overt feminine sexuality threatens the conventional morality of the community.

I wanted to add good points above. It felt a bit of a contrast between the style jazz for this piece and the dirty jazz we would come to expect for the tone of films noir. I'm no expert on jazz and I am actually a big band jazz fan as well, but dark and gritty this scene is not. Perhaps the darkness that is evoked is in each of us as we watch her strip and sacrifice herself to reach Johnny. Have to watch the film to dig a little deeper. Think of Tex Avery's wolves' eyes popping and tongues unfolding like carpets while floating defying gravity when we see the crowds reaction.

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I don't see where the hotness of this scene is supposed to be--it looks and sounds like a movie musical number, not something you would see in a South American nightclub.  The band is tepid, sanitized and the act itself is corny.  It's all so White.

 

The stiff band and singer would never have made it in a real jazz club.  Supper club, maybe.  And that black dress is symbolic of black skin--she's standing in as a Black woman and her performance is a form of minstrelsy.  Having said that.......

 

Gilda is using her performance to torment Johnny by showing him what he's missing.  She's also showing the other men in the room what Johnny's missing, too.  She's running the show and Johnny can't do a thing about it.  The first glove is removed from her arm then swung like a slingshot, she's throwing stones and Johnny's catching them.  Some of the song lyrics are mispronounced:  it's not 'hitchy-coo'.  Black jazz artists and performers pronounced it '****-coo', but that may have been too street for the director who obviously knew how provocative the correct pronunciation was.  Cab Calloway used '****-coo' or '**** ****' in his act.

 

Coo, or **** is slang for the female sex organ.

 

You could see and hear performances onstage at Black clubs that you couldn't see or hear in mainstream clubs which is why well-heeled whites frequented these clubs.  They were exciting and exotic places, you could hear all the new bands and all the new singers.  This is supposed to be a South American club but from the sound of the band it's dry, presumably because of the clientele.

 

Was Gilda drunk?  Maybe.  But she most certainly was on a mission to get back at this man who had hurt her so.  And as she is on stage whipping the audience up, she's letting Johnny (and us) know that she can have any man she wants but by the end we know that Johnny is the only one for her.  Rita Hayworth's performance is stunning in that she is able to convey the emotions and inner turmoil her character is going through onstage as the man who did her so wrong is watching her.

 

I just wish the music had been hot to help convey the sauciness of the performance more directly.

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I was mesmerized with the way she flaunted herself, tossing her hair and moving in a provocative manner.  I also noticed she was doing that to make Johnny jealous. I also think she was trying to convey to Johnny that she is her own woman and that he would have to deal with that fact. Music has been important to films noir in the fact that it helps to set the mood and it heps the process of the story line. 

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I have not seen this movie yet-in watching the clip what I saw was a stunningly beautiful woman who appeared to be intoxicated attempting a striptease. Not that it would matter to any male in that audience how badly she moved. Or us as the viewers. We became intoxicated watching her.  She knew what she was doing and what buttons to push. Did she go too far?   I don’t think she would have let her dress be unzipped- she would have playfully gotten out of it…  There is so much more going on underneath….you know there is sadness and desperation-how bad she must feel inside to get onstage drunk in the first place and also because it’s going to lead to embarrassment  and confrontation.  Do I want to see where this goes?  Yes!  Is it noir?  I’m not getting it from that scene-more melodrama I think. 

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Maybe this isn't the hottest jazz music ever but it is playing "2nd fiddle" to Gilda herself. The trumpets run hot when they need to. The lyrics are full of innuendo. The music allows her to strut and move around the room as she gathers everyone in.  The strip tease, vamping on stage, invitations to men in the audience, the revealing dress, brightly lit bare shoulders and the closeups of her looking right at us while she puts her hair up only to let it down wildly lets us know WHO she really is and what she's done. There's no mistaking that. She's out of control and yet controls every man in the room. In some ways her emasculated husband has only one recourse...to assert physical prowess and resort to violence. That cold hard slap forces both of them to face harsh realities and sad truth.  

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I don't see where the hotness of this scene is supposed to be--it looks and sounds like a movie musical number, not something you would see in a South American nightclub.  The band is tepid, sanitized and the act itself is corny.  It's all so White.

 

The stiff band and singer would never have made it in a real jazz club.  Supper club, maybe.  And that black dress is symbolic of black skin--she's standing in as a Black woman and her performance is a form of minstrelsy.  Having said that.......

 

I normally don't say this about an opinion but...WRONG. I find it incredibly preposterous and highly offensive that you would initiate a racist comment like that. This scene is nothing of the sort. 

 

I think you missed the point of the performance entirely. This is not a dance number. It is a burlesque routine that she willfully put on to anger her husband, Johnny. It is a real jazz club, but Gilda chose to use the jazz stage as her burlesque stage. She clearly isn't drunk but more spitefully playful as she tries to make Johnny out to be a fool because that is what he had been doing to her.

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In a word: sex. Gilda is slinky, sexy, and provocative (just like jazz). She knows it, and she's going to use it to assert her presence and make a point. I haven't seen this film, but I can only assume from this scene that Gilda's leveraging her most influential assets to get under Johnny's skin. I don't know anything about her character, but these qualities are certainly in line with a femme fatale, which, of course, aligns with many films noir.

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The image that struck me most during this musical number was the smile on Rita Hayworth's face while she was strutting around the stage. This is a woman in full possession of her sexual power, and she isn't afraid to use it. It might be tempting to cast film noir in a misogynist light with the trope of the femme fatale, always blaming the woman for a man's downfall, but this scene reveals more of a prelude to the Sexual Liberation movement of the 60s.

 

Perhaps the femme was so fatale because she could no longer be controlled by the men, and she wanted to create her own rules. Even the truly self-centred femmes fatales could not really be blamed for their actions, since they were only taking care of their own interests in a way that men had been doing for ages. WWII was a time when women had to take more power into their lives while their husbands and sons were away in the war, and in the postwar period they were forced back into more traditional, subservient roles. The femme fatale was just a liberated woman who could look out for herself without depending on a "strong man" to protect her, and that made her dangerous.

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

She is full of life, unstoppable- men and women love her, the reaction around her is predictable: using her female power and joy of life, she controls men and provokes other women's admiration. Glen Ford's anxiety seems out of place. 

 

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

I remember watching this scene at about 12 years of age and wanting to be Gilda- the identification with her is complete. Gilda understands the hypocrisies of the world and plays the cards life dealt her the best way she can. (as the movie progresses we see other aspects of her personality that are less attractive - but in the moment of the performance, she is the empowered victim of circumstances - perhaps it is her looking directly at us with an expressive face. She is saying,  I know what I talking about, I went through the pain and emerged from it to be a winner.

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

With this song Gilda tells her story, the way she wants us to see her. And she is so attractive that we want to belief her, we want her to be correct. In more general terms, the use of Jazz or jazz-y music in film noir reflects the uncertainty prevalent in the films - the cat and mouse game with changing rules is reflected in the improvisational character of jazz music. The duality of characters, flawed heroes, that may find redemption or perish in style are in parallel with the stories of many jazz performers themselves. They struggled to make a living at the margin of society, playing either in seedy clubs or treated like outsiders when performing in main stream cabarets. Perhaps a famous case was Josephine Backer, who was denied entrance to the Stork Club in 1951.

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A few minutes after watching this scene from Gilda, I had Jessica Rabbit's version of "Why Don't You Do Right" from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in my head, and it occurred to me, that movie is a noir with toons! http://bit.ly/VVBpPC

You can see art inspiring animation and vice versa. The animators of the times were no doubt awestruck by Gilda's iconography

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Whoa. Where to begin when talking about this famous scene?  First of all, being a fan of burlesque, Rita had the moves down pat. The shimmies, a hint of bump and grind, the oh so slow way she peeled off her glove.  Onstage, she is in control.

 

But you can tell she probably had a little booze to help her rip off her necklace and say "I'm not very good at zippers."

 

Naturally, I hated when Johnny slapped her so violently. You can't root for a misogynist. He was sadistically reminding her of her place now that the two have just become husband and wife. Would he have reacted the same way if she was doing the act just for him and him alone in the bedroom? I hope not. But he might have, given his aggressive behavior towards her in the past.

 

In the end, she was getting a little revenge on Johnny and allowing her spirit to be free for just a little while.

 

Oh, and when asked what held up that black dress, Rita Hayworth reportedly said: "Two things".

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It’s easy to see how Gilda helped inspire Jessica Rabbit.  But while Jessica’s “Why Don’t You Do Right” is all about establishing Jessica as an ultra-sexy, teasing chanteuse, Gilda’s “Put the Blame on Mame” shows us how Johnny sees Gilda.  In his eyes, she is a promiscuous and manipulative, pretty much the stereotypical femme fatale.  Like Jessica Rabbit, there is more to Gilda that meets the eye, and that is evident even in this short scene.  “Put the Blame on Mame” is an act in every sense of the word, and it’s obvious that Gilda is playing a part in front of Johnny.  Her laughter, her teasing, and her movements are all a little forced and over-the-top to get him to reject her and let her go.  I’m no music expert, but I’m not sure I would call the music “jazz”, more jazz inspired.  The song helps emphasize Gilda’s message that Johnny should just put the blame for their difficult lives on her.

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

 

I think the most obvious meaning is that great feminine beauty can be very seductive, causing people-men and women both- to make rash judgments and decisions, to act out of character, and exposing themselves to risks they ordinarily would be careful to avoid. Here we have an especially beautiful and shapely woman, and the otherwise sophisticated and well-to-do clientele are actually trying to expose her right there in public! Thus they are exposing themselves, albeit unwittingly, as vulgar and crass and painting themselves as sexually desperate.

 

Beauty makes men act reckless. Beauty is power.

 

Another example of that is how Glenn Ford's character is so rough and brutal with Gilda. She meant a great deal to him, so much so that her words could have hurt him so deeply and spurred him to physical violence against a member of the weaker sex. He's not a thug. yet here he is acting like a lowlife palooka. He clearly valued his association with Gilda, and winning her meant that he possessed a great prize, inextricably tied in with her great physical beauty. Possessing her was a testament to his male ego. And ego also makes men act reckless.

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 This scene always makes me sad because Gilda is in so much emotional pain.  The real, fragile woman must be protected by the outrageous flirt.  Is that the essence of noir character?  A person whose life experiences created a hard shell that is able to deflect emotional arrows?  Noir characters are so much more than they seem on the exterior.  

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

 

Anger. A whole lot of anger on behalf of Gilda. Her movements seemed clumsy, and having read through the thread and discovered that she was an accomplished dancer made this number all the more intriguing. She's supposed to be doing a striptease, something that is usually very fluid and sensual. Yet, I never got that feeling from this segment. Her dancing wasn't sensual, her stripping wasn't evocative and teasing. She was a woman with a purpose, and her anger and dedication to this purpose overrode the artistic elements of her number, to the point where she was inviting men onstage to undress her and having herself hauled off by the stage manager.

 

 

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

 

What I got was that she was out there, angry and pushing the boundaries, for the sole purpose of humiliating Glenn Ford's character. She might've been a dame who would make a bishop kick through a stained glass window, but she was taking that window out herself, with a sledgehammer.

 

 

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

 

As has been referenced already in regards to Casablanca and The Big Sleep, musical interludes become character pieces, and the music reflects the psychological mood of the protagonist/film at that point. As Time Goes By isn't just a nifty little number that Sam played in Paris, it becomes a subtext of Rick and Ilsa's entire relationship, in both music and libretto. 

 

Having not seen Gilda, I couldn't speak to how this particular song reflects on the relationship between the two main characters, but it does seem a strange song to which to do a striptease. Harlem Nocturne it ain't.

 

However, thinking of Harlem Nocturne leads me to add music, and particularly jazz, to the list of elements that helped make film noir a grittier, more realistic genre. This isn't the pretty, big band numbers of the '30s - a lot of the jazz I've heard used in scores is more in the bebop, freestyle jazz, where it can be discordant, energetic and almost out of control, much like many of the characters encountered in film noir.

 

 

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

 

Anger. A whole lot of anger on behalf of Gilda. Her movements seemed clumsy, and having read through the thread and discovered that she was an accomplished dancer made this number all the more intriguing. She's supposed to be doing a striptease, something that is usually very fluid and sensual. Yet, I never got that feeling from this segment. Her dancing wasn't sensual, her **** wasn't evocative and teasing. She was a woman with a purpose, and her anger and dedication to this purpose overrode the artistic elements of her number, to the point where she was inviting men onstage to undress her and having herself hauled off by the stage manager.

 

 

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

 

What I got was that she was out there, angry and pushing the boundaries, for the sole purpose of humiliating Glenn Ford's character. She might've been a dame who would make a bishop kick through a stained glass window, but she was taking that window out herself, with a sledgehammer.

 

 

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

 

As has been referenced already in regards to Casablanca and The Big Sleep, musical interludes become character pieces, and the music reflects the psychological mood of the protagonist/film at that point. As Time Goes By isn't just a nifty little number that Sam played in Paris, it becomes a subtext of Rick and Ilsa's entire relationship, in both music and libretto. 

 

Having not seen Gilda, I couldn't speak to how this particular song reflects on the relationship between the two main characters, but it does seem a strange song to which to do a striptease. Harlem Nocturne it ain't.

 

However, thinking of Harlem Nocturne leads me to add music, and particularly jazz, to the list of elements that helped make film noir a grittier, more realistic genre. This isn't the pretty, big band numbers of the '30s - a lot of the jazz I've heard used in scores is more in the bebop, freestyle jazz, where it can be discordant, energetic and almost out of control, much like many of the characters encountered in film noir.

Seriously? You censored the first half of the word striptease? People are going to think I was being vulgar.

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The “Put The Blame on Mame” scene represents most if not all of the important themes in Charles Vidor’s, Gilda (1946).  First and foremost is the power of female sexuality.  In Gilda, men obsess about Gilda (Rita Hayworth).  They lust for her, they want to possess her, they fear her, they need to control her.  And you can see why.   She’s the virtual Fort Knox of female sexuality.  The noir themes in this clip are lust, obsession and misogyny.

 

Poor Gilda.  After she works the crowd into a lather, and then says, “I’m not very good at zippers…Maybe if I had some help” ex-husband, now bodyguard Johnny Farrell (Glen Ford) rushes in to put the muzzle on Gilda who decided to use the show as a means to provoke and or get even with Johnny.  The song is great but it’s really the lyrics that serve to underscore the trouble that Gilda is frequently blamed for.

 

Poor Johnny.  He knows all too well what smolders under that evening gown and it’s driving him nuts.  In this respect, his love/hate relationship with Gilda reminds me of the relationship between Devlin (Cary Grant) and Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) in Alfred Hitchcock’s, Notorious (1946).  Farrell, like Devlin, will have to understand how to stop the condemnation and express true love to insure both films’ happy endings.

 

-Mark

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Unfotunately, this scene is just way to iconic for me to see it with fresh eyes. When femme fatale is listed in the dictionary there is a picture of Gilda next to it. If she can't win she will take him down with her.

 

On a side note, Years later an interviewer asked Rita what held up that black dress, her reply was "two things". So just keep calm and Put the Blame on Mame

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