“Gilda, are you decent?” Rita Hayworth tosses her hair back and slyly responds, “Me?” in one of the great star entrances in movie history. Gilda, directed by Charles Vidor, features a sultry Hayworth in her most iconic role, as the much-lusted-after wife of a criminal kingpin (George Macready), as well as the former flame of his bitter henchman (Glenn Ford), and she drives them both mad with desire and jealousy. An ever-shifting battle of the sexes set on a Buenos Aires casino’s glittering floor and in its shadowy back rooms, Gilda is among the most sensual of all Hollywood noirs.
Charles Vidor’s Gilda gets a new Blu-ray edition from The Criterion Collection, presenting the film in its original theatrical aspect ratio of about 1.33:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is presented on a dual-layer disc, and comes from a high-definition scan of a fine-grain master made from the original negative.
I came away from this a little let down. The presentation Criterion gives us here certainly looks better than the old Sony DVD found in their 2010 Rita Hayworth set, though I guess despite the fact the clean-up job here has been more thorough and we not get the image in high-definition, the upgrade doesn’t seem too large. Criterion has cleaned up quite a bit of the damage that remained on the old DVD, with scratches and more obvious mold stains gone (though there are still remnants of the latter issue remaining). Still, I was surprised at some of the damage that remained, including bits of dirt and debris, that popped up fairly consistently throughout, making me feel that maybe the film didn’t get as thorough a once-over as one would expect. Pulsing and slight fluctuations are also visible. Ultimately I’m probably being unfair, after all the film is almost 70 years old, but I guess I wasn’t as blown away with the restoration aspect as I have been with other presentations.
The image is fairly sharp most of the time, though there can be a fuzziness that impedes from time to time, but this does look to be more related to source materials again. The film’s grain structure, which can get a bit heavy in places, looks to be adequately rendered, and I didn’t spot any anomalies or blocky patterns; it does at least look filmic. Contrast is improved and the tonal shifts in gray levels look finer and more natural. The digital presentation itself looks fine in the end, but I guess it wasn’t the knockout I was hoping for.
I ended up watching the film a few times on this release and each time I felt just a bit disappointed with it. It is fine and offers an improvement over the old Sony DVD release no doubt, but there’s room for improvement.
Criterion delivers the film with a lossless PCM 1.0 mono track. There can be audible background noise at times, a slight hiss, but the track is otherwise fine. Dialogue is clear, as is the film’s music, and range can be decent, but there can be a slight edge to things when music swells. Ultimately it sounds fine, really just limited by age.
Feeling like the general presentation of the film left a bit to be desired I was then further let down by the supplements, which are mostly carry overs from the previous Sony DVD. I’m still debating on which one is the worst of the bunch, though am admittedly leaning towards the audio commentary by Richard Schickel. It’s an odd commentary because it’s not like it’s terrible in and of itself, but what got me is how little information there is actually to the thing. He covers general things like the careers of the performers (Hayworth in particular), talks about whether it can be considered a noir, the homoerotic undertones found in the relationship between the two male characters, and offers his own defense of Charles Vidor as a director, who he feels has been unfairly dismissed. This is all fine, nothing truly revelatory but it’s fine. But the commentary is loaded with so much dead space, and Schickel mostly just chimes in here and there making a comment about something on screen without expanding much. I take notes while listening to commentary tracks, which usually take up about a page (unless it’s David Kalat, where I find myself writing a short novel’s worth of notes) but with this one, I maybe wrote about a fifth of a page’s worth, which tells me there wasn’t much of interest to this track. Really would have loved it if Criterion could have commissioned a new track.
Also pieced together from the previous DVD is what is more or less an introduction by directors Baz Luhrmann and Martin Scorsese, though Luhrmann gets far more screen time. Luhrmann talks more about the appeal of the film, particularly the older style to it that just can’t be replicated today, while Scorsese talks about Hayworth’s appeal and how the film propelled her. It’s a decent piece, with the directors offering their insights and sharing, whether purposely or not, how the film impacted and/or influenced them, but again, like Schickel’s commentary it’s not the most astute piece I’ve come across, especially disappointing since Scorsese is a bastion of film knowledge.
Not on the previous DVD but found here is a 1964 television episode of Hollywood and the Stars, this one focusing on Rita Hayworth and aptly titled “The Odyssey of Rita Hayworth.” Made around the time Hayworth was busy making Circus World, where she was already be demoted to the role of “the mother,” it gives a general overview of her life and career, from dancer to “love goddess.” It touches a bit on her marriages, though thankfully doesn’t feel the need to turn salacious in this regard, and we also get to hear her talk about her children and what she wants for them. It’s nice, though not very in-depth in all honesty. It is narrated by Joseph Cotten but Hayworth does also talk over the program, giving a more personal perspective to the whole thing. It runs 25-minutes and amusingly still has commercial placeholders in place.
Criterion does at least provide a new feature, an interview with noir scholar Eddie Muller. This 22-minute segment is probably the better feature on the disc, though still a bit light. In it Muller talks about the relationship between Munson (Macready) and Farrell (Ford), stating outright that he thinks it’s intentional but doesn’t believe the two are having any sort of physical relationship, saying it’s more a power struggle. While talking about this some of the more obvious suggestions to this relationship and Farrell’s possible bisexuality found in the film are edited into the piece. He does admit the film never comes right out and says anything, though, but mentions that for any of these theories to work one would have to keep in mind the production code at the time, which would have banned anything of the sort being mentioned outright. He also talks about whether the film can really be classified as noir and whether Hayworth’s character can be considered a true femme fatale, among other subjects. He considers it an odd film, still not entirely sure what to make of it, and he wishes he could have seen it with audiences at the time, wondering if it had an effect on audiences similar to Mulholland Dr., where audiences would come out completely baffled by what they saw (they must have liked it, though, since the film did quite well). It can feel a little slight, and I’m sure some will disagree with him or find fault, but it is probably the best feature on here as I felt Muller provided more meat to his discussion, providing more insights into the film, and it is far more satisfying than Schickel’s commentary.
The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer and then a fold-out insert. The insert presents a great poster image of Hayworth on one side, and a good essay by Sheila O’Malley on the other, covering the film’s success, things buried with it, Hayworth’s star power, and we also get another defense of Vidor as a director.
Despite the Muller addition this special edition as a whole feels incredibly mediocre.
The release almost feels to be pushed out just to get it out, something more like Criterion’s release of The Big Chill rather than, well, most everything else they’ve ever released (even some barebone releases feel to have had more love put into them). It looks better than previous editions, but that’s about all the praise I can heap upon it. I was severely let down by this edition.