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Woman on Screen


Johnny Farrell narrates the plot in the film he is an American in Argentina and a gambler. Johnny wins a large sum of money one day but is attacked by thugs, he survives after being helped by a stranger, Ballin Mudson who informs him of a classy casino which is involved in illegal gambling (Gilda. Dir. Charles Vidor). Johnny is also warned about gambling there but he doesn’t heed this warning by Mundson. He goes to the casino and cheats at blackjack he is picked up by security and excorted to see the owner. The owner happens to be Mundson, during their conversation Johnny asks to be employed in the casino (Gilda. Dir. Charles Vidor). Mundson agreed to hire Johnny and he is impressed by his work but a workmate Uncle Pio the washroom attendant is not impressed and instead calls Johnny a “peasant” (Gilda. Dir. Charles Vidor).

Gilda, who is the wife to Mundson return from a trip one day when they meet with Johnny. It can be seen that the two have a past together which they deny when Mundson brings it up (Gilda. Dir. Charles Vidor). Johnny decides to confront Gilda in her matrimonial bedroom where they engage in a mind-blowing conversation about their romantic past which didn’t end well. Mundson is convinced that the two have a past together in not so clear circumstances but he goes ahead and asks Johnny to watch Gilda’s movements (Gilda. Dir. Charles Vidor). Gilda engages with men to annoy Johnny, their hatred grows since Johnny doesn’t like what Gilda is doing (Gilda. Dir. Charles Vidor).

Mundson has a dark secret about his business relations with two German businessmen who belong to a secret organization and have invested their money in a cartel in Mundson’s name (Gilda. Dir. Charles Vidor). The two men visit Mundson to claim back what was theirs only for Mundson to decline handing over ownership. Meanwhile the German trio’s activities have attracted attention from the Argentine secret service. One of their agents, Obregon approaches Johnny for some information but Johnny has no knowledge of Mundson’s business operations (Gilda. Dir. Charles Vidor).

The Germans decide to visit Mundson again about their business situation, this ends badly when Mudson shoots one of them dead. On that very night, Johnny and Gilda engage in another heated exchange in Mundson’s house (Gilda. Dir. Charles Vidor). The confrontation ends up with the two kissing when Mundson walks in on them and runs out to a waiting plane. Johnny runs after him but is too late since the plane takes off and blows up in mid air an event which Obregon also witnesses. However this was just a successful attempt by Mundson to fake his death since he parachutes out of the plane to safety (Gilda. Dir. Charles Vidor).

Gilda goes ahead to inherit Mundson’s estate and gets married to Johnny but Johnny marries Gilda to punish both of them for the betrayal on Mundson since he believes it is this that led him to his death. Johnny keeps Gilda guarded out of hatred for her and his loyalty to her late husband. Gilda tries several times to escape but to no avail she even performs a striptease in a room full of men to embarrass Johnny into letting her go but all her efforts fail. Obregon informs Johnny that Gilda only acted her infidelity to her husband and she was not unfaithful to him. On learning this Johnny tries to patch up things up with Gilda but Mundson reappears armed with a gun to kill the two but they are rescued by Uncle Pio who stabs Mundson and kills him (Gilda. Dir. Charles Vidor).

The film ends with Obregon repossessing the estate for the government while Gilda and Johnny reconcile their differences and forgive each other.

This film involve a wide variety of genres in its construction, the film comes out as drama, romance, thriller and film-noir. The scenes are constructed to bring out all these aspects for example romance can be seen when Johnny and Gilda kiss, thriller can be seen when Mundson shoots and kills one of the Germans, drama can be seen when Johnny cheats at blackjack and is taken to see the owner and film-noir comes out with the introduction of the Argentine secret agent Obregon.

Formal Strategies Deployed For the Construction of the Woman Subject

In this film by Charles Vidor, Gilda performs a strip sequence which provides a vivid dramatization in which the construction of woman-as-fetish can go to challenge the norm of which it is a part. This scene represents the film for its masochistic displays. Gilda who is also the title character earlier made a toast to her own destruction and referred to herself as “dirty laundry” who married someone who scares her. She goes ahead to encourage Johnny to think of her as a whore (Silverman 233).

In this film Gilda plays some of her roles which come off as ritual self-humiliation, this relies on the equation of female subjectivity with spectacle and male subjectivity with the look. Gilda not only plays to Johnny’s sight but to the casino staff as well, a group comprising of male customers among them Obregon the detective. She begins by singing and moving to an erotically self-lacerating song, but when urged on by the onlookers to strip she obliges and only stops when she is removed from the floor by one of Johnny’s men (Dirks Gilda 1946).

This song and dance episode goes to show a classic example of the “fetishist” resolution to the dilemma of female lack. The lighting during the strip tease is toned and aimed towards bringing out the fetishist feel of the unfolding events where the light concentrates on her clothes bringing out the black sheath she was wearing, the necklace and gloves which she tossed to the onlookers. These events do not go to hide Gilda’s inhibitions but instead to flaunt them providing demonstration of the female guilt with intentions to confirm evidence of her promiscuous nature. This demonstration is not initiated by the male person but is freely offered by the female subject by engaging in the strip tease while singing a song about a woman’s old-age evils (“Put the blame on Mane”). Gilda goes ahead to say “You wanted that. Now you should be happy. You wanted everyone to know that Johnny Farrell’s wife is a tramp.” In this statement she goes to suggest that Johnny does not only want to expose her but feels the need to expose himself as a masochistic and passive subject (Silverman 233).

Theories used to analyze the film Gilda

Feministic film theory

The feminist film theory was developed with regards to advancement of women studies during the second wave of feminism. It was geared towards the analysis of films and the role of women characters by feminist scholars. In this regard Gilda has been objectified as an object of pleasure this is seen when the male crowd cheers her on when she dances (Mulvey 15). Moreover they urge her to strip as they gazed upon her lustfully. The society is patriarchal and men have come up with certain stereotypes against women’s characters. This can be demonstrated with an example from Johnny who at one time in the film compared a woman’s persona to that of a dagger (Doane 103). This was in response to a question by Gilda on the gender of Ballin’s cane knife. He said, “A her…because it looks like one thing and right in front of your eyes it becomes another thing.” This meant that women were considered deceitful and untrustworthy because of their shape shifting nature (Doane 103).

Psychoanalytic theory

Freud in his psychoanalytic theory speaks of scopophilia which is a sexual drive that stirs one to derive pleasure through visualization of other individuals as objects of erotic gratification (Mulvey 17). This drive can be controlled by the development of the ego although not in all instances as it can progress and develop into an obsession whereby one can only attain sexual satisfaction through watching other people. The men in this film can be said to exhibit scopophilia this is because they have objectified women and more so Gilda they get pleasure by watching dancing erotically. The men fix their gaze upon her as she dances she removes her gloves as she performs the strip tease for the men who are anticipating seeing her naked body to satisfy their own sexual pleasures (Mulvey 17).

Argument and Conclusion

This film depicts a woman as nothing more than an object of erotic pleasure. Her role in the society has been belittled and she has been portrayed to having little or no self respect. She is also portrayed as being deceitful and spiteful as can be seen in the film when she flirts around random men to annoy Johnny who she holds a grudge against, she also performs a striptease in a room full of men among them his husband so that she can embarrass him in front of his peers and she asserts that that was what he wanted. This was directed to Johnny because he was punishing her for her supposedly infidelity to her former husband and consequently to him.

In conclusion, women are not supposed to be portrayed or seen as objects of pleasure but should be accorded the respect of active members of the society who take part in productive activities in their own individual capacities.  In regard to films, women should be given more positive roles to try and mitigate the effect of the stereotypes they face currently. Their character selection should be able to place them at the same level with their male counterparts. Their appearances should not only come with erotic innuendoes but should portray positive and strong characters to go towards improving their image and stand within the general society they live in.

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