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Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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This music sequence in Gilda shows the stress Gilda's character is under as she exposes herself in front of the audience. She is dressed in good taste, with long evening gown and the proper gloves, but dances provocatively and strips off her gloves and throws things out to the men in the audience, completely out of control. She is making a show of what her life has become, dressing in rich fabric, but debasing herself for the men in her life. The song itself tells multiple stories of how women have caused the demise of men, even causing the San Francisco earthquake in 1906! "Put the blame on Mame, boys, put the blame on Mame." She is showing not only the self-hatred of herself and the power that seemingly comes with it, but also the contempt for the men who have responded to her debasement.  

You can tell by the way Johnny reacts that he is ashamed for her, maybe even loves her, but hates what she is doing. He hates what she has become and she is rubbing his face in it.

This scene is all about the dichotomy of love/hate, power/weakness, male and female dominance/femme fatale. The question throughout is that at any given moment, you can see both sides in each person happening at the same time. Whoever is in power is also the weakest one. Whoever is in love, hates just as much.

The close-ups of a beautiful, perfect woman who seems like she is having fun and totally "owning" the room, dancing the burlesque, alluring, brave and daring, but you can see glimmers of pain, sadness and fear all at the same time. The "devil may care" attitude is coming from someone who actually cares very much and it shows. It is painful to watch, heartbreaking really.

The song itself, which is played throughout the movie, becomes like a character itself. It is has sad undertones, even though it is obviously supposed to be humorous. It is sung with a sadness and deliberation that makes the words tragic. Like Gilda in her dress, the formal arrangements with brass and strings that should be lively but they are playing the blues. It

Like the earthquake, she shimmies and shakes and causes the demise of men in the movie.

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This scene from Gilda demonstrates a trope that has appeared in film since its inception: the Nightclub scene. In many classic films, the main characters at some point enter a restaurant, bar, or nightclub. This is frequently accompanied by a music number, like the one here. The Nightclub scene plays on an even older concept: the Watering Hole. French Coffee Shops. Medieval Inns. Roman Bath Houses. Actual Watering Holes in the wild. On a primordial level, there's something appealing about that sort of social gathering place. The Nightclub scene is just one step in the evolution of the concept.

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A beautiful woman in the black satin strapless gown, Gilda, literally and figuratively removes the gloves, setting up the fight with Johnny, following her steamy tour de force performance in the nightclub.

 

Her drunkeness is apparent, and as with many cases of women being at a disadvantage when under the influence of alcohol, she goes too far, offering to remove her dress when the song is complete. She sets herself up as the next "disaster" for although she maybe a femme fatale, I wonder if her drunkeness doesn't make her more of a victim, since she is not in control, and is demonstrating a form of self-destruction.

 

The music leads, her, as it leads the audience in the nightclub, (and the movie viewer too) with the sexy horns and the band supporting her and pushing her on, from behind. The music is another character, urging both Gilda and the audience to want more. But I wonder why no one in the nightclub stands up for her, other than the henchmen. Maybe I am naive, but I rather wonder if any women in the audience would have stood up for her?

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


 


That she seemed to be acting in the scene giving the men what they wanted and playing along with what kind of person she thought they were.  We see her being in total control over them.  But when she is pulled aside by Johnny she becomes real and vulnerable.  I have to say Rita Hayworth is a favorite actress of mine.  


 


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


 


The song is about a woman being blamed for everything!  A guys downfall, an earthquake!


When she is singing the song she has everyone's attention. She's in total control.


 


 


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


 


Music can add much more tension to a scene or in some cases lighten a scene.  In Gilda's case it appears to be a light song, but the song does have a bit of a telling tone of put the blame on mame!.


 


 


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As a guy....I only noticed her.....and sometimes that is alright.   Noir can be layered, or sometimes stripped bare, wither way things get put out there sort a say, and the viewers react accordingly.  

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I may have a minority opinion on this, but Rita Hayworth looks like she's drunk or stoned in this dance scene, flopping around and stomping about in an ungraceful manner with her arms splayed out awkwardly. To me she is anything but alluring in this scene. That said, I guess drunk/stoned exhibitionist is probably what was drawing the men out of the woodwork, and her uninhibited behavior is probably what really **** her man off. 

 

I have an alternate take on this movie as a whole: Johnny and Ballin are the love birds, and Gilda is the odd man out if you will. Watch how the two men react to one another and the subtle undertones are unmistakeable. Johnny wants nothing to do with Gilda once he marries her...??? Its all to get back at Ballin. 

 

Now: what does this have to do with the noir sensibility? Well, she is bad and her badness controls the men around her? She uses herself to achieve her designated ends? Alternatively, she is desperate for male attention as she is competing with Ballin for Johnny's attention, such that any kind of lurid attention will do and this desperation will drive the course of the movie? Probably.

Further to my earlier reply, I have to say that French critics share your opinion.  This is a movie about the love between two men.  Gilda links them both (through marriage) and may represent the sexual tension between them rather than exist as a separate character.  The love/hate relationship is the fear both men have of this then unacceptable desire.  I am now quite persuaded by this view as it has been given a French blessing.  After all, film noir is a French concept which most cineasts accept now. 

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Gilda and the jazzy strains of "Put the Blame on Mame" are perfectly in synch and out of synch at the same time.

 

While the score's tone and lyrics seem to offer Gilda up as a femme fatale with nothing to hide, her seductive dance moves aren't in time with the music. This could signify that, along with being intoxicated, she isn't your standard-issue femme fatale. Noticeably, the music swells during her close-ups -- especially when she plays with her hair.

 

The diegetic sound allows the viewer to be completely immersed in the nightclub world and be seduced by Gilda with everyone else.

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I perform in musical theatre for a living.  To be perfectly honest, I wasn't picking up too much of what Hayworth was putting down here.  I saw a woman, probably pretty tight, doing a bad and cheap striptease.  I picked up no layers underneath her performance.  Is that the point?  Is Hayworth (and perhaps the director of Gilda, not named here) attempting to depict the vapidity of this 'bad girl'?

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What she does with her hair is tantalizing, but somewhat cliche. The peeling off of the first glove is the best striptease I have ever seen.  The dancing is clumsy, but the clumsiness is overlooked by the enthralled.

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

 

Off the bat, it's her clunkiness in dancing. Though I don't know what the proper style was in that era, it's clear that her movements are somewhat forced or difficult. It's more apparent that she's drunk towards the end of the scene, and that perhaps explains her behavior, including the striptease and the request for someone to pull her zipper. The scene shows her lack of care, a rowdyness, that is quite possibly due to her husband's overbearingness? He's clearly unhappy with her and set to control her to his liking. What's most interesting is that at the beginning of the scene he appears gentle and calm with his friend and completely loses it with her.

 

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

 

The lyrics: Place the blame on mame. Who's to blame for the catastrophe of SF (and the film)? She is. Her behavior: something shady is going on in her life and she's fighting it, albeit badly. Her seductiveness: above all, she is a full woman and she's not to forget that part of herself.

 

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

 

Perhaps it centralizes the importance of musical numbers, of femme fatales that are more vulnerable and not in control, of empowering (?) the female characters with more sex appeal and brashness.

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

 

That she seemed to be acting in the scene giving the men what they wanted and playing along with what kind of person she thought they were. We see her being in total control over them. But when she is pulled aside by Johnny she becomes real and vulnerable. I have to say Rita Hayworth is a favorite actress of mine.

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

 

The song is about a woman being blamed for everything! A guys downfall, an earthquake!

When she is singing the song she has everyone's attention. She's in total control.

 

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

 

Music can add much more tension to a scene or in some cases lighten a scene. In Gilda's case it appears to be a light song, but the song does have a bit of a telling tone of put the blame on mame!.

I agree the song is adding tension yet telling Gilda's story. She is doing the exact opposite of what Johnny wants her to do while explaining to him this is exactly who he married. She appears hurt, vulnerable and at her lowest low. It's an entrancing scene that grabs the audience, perhaps her overall intention.
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It's interesting to see Gilda get her unspoken thoughts across while performing this number. She probably wouldn't have had the courage to do it without the help of alcohol, and it took a bit considering how badly she was dancing. She's getting across to those who truly understand (namely Johnny) that she knows she's thought of as a **** and doesn't care. She acts the way she does day to day to get through her very unhappy life. Around men she knows she has a certain amount of power, which she lacks with her husband and his partner (and previous lover). And the way she worked the men in the audience was her way of showing that power. By tossing away her necklace, she says she doesn't care about the expensive gifts she's been given by a husband who more possesses than loves her. They are meaningless to her. She also attempted to show she wasn't afraid of anything.

Her choice of song to sing just bolstered her message that she was a shameless user of men and was usually to blame when something bad happened. She wanted to let Johnny know that she knew exactly how he felt about her. The music definitely does a great job of setting up the scene and helping her get her point across. Most musical numbers in noir films tend to do this....they help the character say more than their simple spoken words do, which helps us as viewers gain more insight into them.

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Rita Hayworth just exudes sexuality. She knew it. The directors who casted her knew it. The guys who did the lighting knew it. In this famous sequence from Gilda, there's almost a meta-ness to it all as Gilda, like Rita herself, knows she can get any man she wants, anytime she wants. Even though she is clearly drunk and staggering through her performance, the audience simply doesn't care because of how gorgeous she is. Johnny is looking at this all from afar and realizes he is simply one of these men, whether he wants to admit it to himself or not. He tries to be hard and tough but, in the end, he is just another man salivating over Gilda. He is jealous and intimidated by Gilda. She knows it. She simply has everyone in the palm of her hand. She isn't necessarily a femme fatale like in most noir. She is an explicit sex object who doesn't knowingly lead Johnny to ruin. He does that to himself.

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Cherchez la femme... 

 

 

I attended a screening of "Gilda" at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood presented by the American Cinematheque this past April. We learned a lot about femme fatales and intrigantes, and what really held up Ms. Hayworth's dress! I gained insight watching this segment again more closely, and with tips from our course instructor in mind. For the first time, I am struck with the feminism of it. It's true, women are often shamed and blamed for the ill-fated consequences of the deeds of men. Presented by a woman, and in this case with the boldness of Rita Hayworth, "Put the Blame on Mame" really drives the absurdity of that kind of behavioral displacement home, and points us directly to the gripping heart of the story of the resentful lovers in "Gilda."

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"He does that to himself."

 

Well said, zkirkland24 :)

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The thing I noticed was the glamour lighting on Hayworth.  The backlight and spotlight combined with her strapless black gown seem to accentuate her facial beauty (not that she needed any help).  Her head and shoulders stood out brightly as she was dragged offstage in a sea of blackness. When she was carried backstage and confronted by Glenn Ford, she seemed to still be in the spotlight while Ford was in the shadows.  Not sure of the significance of this lighting scheme (if any) but I did notice she always seem to be illuminated brightly while those around her were in the darkness or shadows. 

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There's something almost apocalyptic about this strip tease number. Gilda is more than willing to degrade and even destroy herself if she can hurt Johnny as much as has hurt her. She'll smilingly submit herself to the fumbling hands of nightclub revelers who fight for the chance to unzip her body-hugging gown. She appears to embrace her shame, knowing Johnny is writhing in it every bit as much as she writhes in her seductive song and dance.

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This is a tough one because telling the truth will incur the wrath of many women. I'll just say that the whole premise in this routine is to make light of any role women may have in their own problems. Gilda pokes at the notion she's to blame, rather it's the men and she's just along for the ride. Yet, she repeatedly antagonizes the men in her life, picking at their weaknesses and hot spots, and then acting shocked when violent men react in a violent manner. Isn't that really the heart of femme fatale character?

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I have often wondered the relationship of jazz on Film Noir. Whether it has a specific quality that contributes to (and perhaps, establish) a certain atmosphere on the film, or is it simply a musical choice?

 

I think the best example would be Miles Davis' wonderful accompaniment on Louis Malle's Ascenseur Pour L'Echafaud. The scene wherein Jeanne Moreau's character walks barefoot along the Champs Elysees while the rhythmic syncopation (albeit melancholy) of Miles' trumpet bellowing in the background--the desperation of the character is apparent, yielding to futlity.

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Cherchez la femme... 

 

 

I attended a screening of "Gilda" at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood presented by the American Cinematheque this past April. We learned a lot about femme fatales and intrigantes, and what really held up Ms. Hayworth's dress! I gained insight watching this segment again more closely, and with tips from our course instructor in mind. For the first time, I am struck with the feminism of it. It's true, women are often shamed and blamed for the ill-fated consequences of the deeds of men. Presented by a woman, and in this case with the boldness of Rita Hayworth, "Put the Blame on Mame" really drives the absurdity of that kind of behavioral displacement home, and points us directly to the gripping heart of the story of the resentful lovers in "Gilda."

 

"After all, film noir is a French concept which most cineasts accept now."

 

I'm not sure that recognizing and analyzing a style of American film making qualifies it as a French concept. It's an American concept that French critics labeled, IMHO.

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In her famous musical number in Gilda, Rita Hayworth as Gilda is singing about a femme fatale named Mame and is embodying through her dance Mame’s fateful “shim and shake” and “hitchy-coo” that led to the San Francisco earthquake and the downfall of Dan McGrew, according to the words of the song.  At the end of the number, Gilda seems slightly off-balance as if she is a little drunk.  In addition to the suggestive moves of the dance, she removes both her long gloves and her necklace in what appears to be the beginning of a strip tease.  She suggestively asks for help with her zipper and then holds up her arms to lift her hair and give two customers easy access to the zipper.  While the two customers fumble around with the zipper, Hayworth stares coolly into the distance, possibly at Johnny Farrell (Glen Ford), who by this time has moved from behind the venetian blinds in his office and down to the bar in the casino.  The tease is cut short when Casey (Joseph Sawyer) steps in to remove Gilda from the dance floor.  It becomes clear in the ensuing confrontation between Gilda and Johnny that this has been an act of exhibitionism meant to provoke and embarrass Johnny in the same way that the fictional Mame was a destructive force

 

I think musical numbers in many films noir, especially those from female characters, added an atmosphere of sultry sensuality and seduction.  Another good example is the nightclub scene when Ann Sheridan sings “Would You Like a Souvenir?” in Nora Prentiss.

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In Gilda, the music appears an element that definitely constitutes the heart of this film's action, and reveals the 'secrets of the soul' for Gilda and Johnny.   

 

Johnny literally enters the world of this sublime noir scene via the music.  In his office, he is stopped dead in his tracks upon hearing the orchestra play - even before Gilda enters the stage. 

 

Gilda' performance? I liken it - with the use of this music - to a boxing match.   She enters the ring with the spotlight only upon her.  She throws down her shawl, and looks back at it, as if to say to Johnny that she is throwing in the towel.  She gives up and admits defeat.   Like a boxer who is "punch-drunk" her dancing makes you wonder if she is drunk.   She even swings her arm in a manner symbolic of a right hook.   I feel Gilda evinces a contrast of both power and vulnerability.  She starts this round, but she finishes the vulnerable one.  

 

Use of Close-Ups and intimately linked to the music is great!    

 

First close-up:   "One night she started to shim and shake, that brought on the Frisco quake."

Second close-up:  "They once had a shooting up in the Klondike, when they got Dan McGrew."

Third close-up:  the final verse:  "Put the blame on Mame, boys, put, the blame, on Mame."

Heart of the Action:   Tonight, Gilda (Mame) is going to shake things up.  She is going to act tonight and "get" her McGrew (Johnny).   As she sings the final verse, she turns her back to the camera while dancing, then turns back around as she ends the song.   It is as if Gilda is now leaving the boxing ring, but then changes her mind.  Why?  

 

Answer:  The deepest layer of meaning in this musical sequence:   

Gilda and Johnny enjoy the fight.  They connect via their intense passion, their dramatic love-hate encounters.  There knock-down drag out physical actions and reactions to one another. 
 This is evinced by how Johnny leaves the scene:  He grabs her arm and slaps her - delivering his own punch!  A close-up shows Johnny angry, but with a subtle smirk or smile of pleasure.  He pauses in that moment of pleasure.  He then runs away - almost shocked at his pleasure.      

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Wow Rita was in fact a show stopper, somewhat frisky but with class, I didn't get the feeling that this particular scene had the pending doom, but knew that it was certainly going to draw some attention from Glenn Ford, great scene.

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This is indeed an epic scene.  Really rather sad and disturbing too - she's willing to go to great lengths to hurt Johnny as he hurt her...she's in complete control on stage but as soon as she's off, she's vulnerable again.  Epic amount of sexual tension here, as she's portraying the 'fallen woman' and taking great delight in it...just an amazing scene

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Every time I see this scene, I think she is sad.  She is looking for the genuine attention she craves from (Glenn Ford) Johnny.  Her acting out results in Johnny getting mad but it is still some sort of attention.  The song is full of double meanings and if you listen to the words, you can hear that Gilda is essentially complaining about how things work out for women.  She is telling us that she is being blamed and men are never held accountable for their actions.

 

She decides to play the game in order to get her "side" out there and hurt Johnny.  Dressed in a very sexy dress and doing a mild striptease, she knows this will make him angry.

 

The deeper layers I see are the anonymous men that obviously love Gilda but all she cares about is the love of one man and he is not interested.  She is even willing to have these other men undress her since Johnny won't.

 

I also see a connection to the post-war atmosphere in the US, particularly the paranoia about escaped Nazis.  Things like homosexuality and impotence were only hinted at because of the production code.  This is one of a handful of films noir that has a (sort of) happy ending.

 

The refusal to arrest anyone at the end made me think of Casablanca.

 

 

 

 

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