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Mix Tape: "Put the Blame on Mame" in Gilda

Andreas from Pussy Goes Grrr here, with one of the sultriest musical numbers ever committed to film.

Nightclub acts are scattered throughout the seamy annals of film noir. For starters, you've got Lauren Bacall singing "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine" at the casino in The Big Sleep, and Veronica Lake putting on a magic act in This Gun for Hire. Live music, cut with equal parts despair and eroticism, is just perfect for noir's postwar underworld. In Gilda, Rita Hayworth outdoes every other noir chanteuse with her unforgettable rendition of "Put the Blame on Mame." It's sexy, sassy, and bundles up the film's themes in a black satin ribbon.

By the time the nightclub performance arrives, though, we've already heard Hayworth rehearsing the song twice. She's humming along to it during her indelible introduction ("Gilda, are you decent?" / "Me?") and later, her paramour-turned-husband Johnny (Glenn Ford) catches her singing it for Uncle Pio, the old washroom attendant. Throughout, the song acts as Gilda's leitmotif, emblematic of her fearsome sexual power. It's a side of her that the jealous, overprotective Johnny doesn't want anyone else to see.

Her initial, intimate performance for Uncle Pio just aggravates Johnny. Her final, full-on striptease to the song—done with a full orchestra and a packed house—leaves him apoplectic. It's the erotic equivalent of a hydrogen bomb: even though she strips off no more than two long satin gloves, she does it with red-hot seductive intensity. She saunters up to the camera for a close-up, then sashays away coyly, with the camerawork and choreography working together like dance partners.

Even more impressive is Hayworth herself. She's not just singing and dancing; she's also acting. This scene is, after all, dramatically crucial to the whole film, and her performance is intercut with shots of Johnny rushing through the audience, trying to put a stop to it. As Hayworth struts and stretches her arms, you can see the utter resentment in her eyes. Her performance is all the more energetic and spectacular because she's doing it to get back at him. No man can control her, and she proves it by exposing the rapt audience to her sizzling, unapologetic sexuality.

The song itself reinforces these points on the surface level, too. "Mame" is every mythical femme fatale, right down to Gilda herself, and she's a force to be reckoned with, unleashing earthquakes and gunfights just by dancing. Just as the lyrics presage, Hayworth is weaponizing her body, and this dance is an act of aggression. For once, she's in control—and not just of the situation, but of the film itself. Sure enough, this scene is Gilda's centerpiece, a bubbling cauldron of satin and sex appeal.

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Reader Comments (5)

It's a testament to Hayworth's sexiness that the "strip tease" involves removing only 2 gloves yet is hotter than anything that would have ended in the au naturale. Great piece BTW.

April 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

Greta Garbo had the face, but Rita Hayworth had the face & the body

April 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNina

"Rita Hayworth gave a good face"

Rita's pivotal performance and role in her most celebrated picture, along with THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI

I never understood how she was overlooked by the Academy that year, but maybe it's my mistake to judge a cult movie with a postmodern sensibility, forgetting that maybe in 1946 that kind of film and perf weren't deemed awardscaliber, anyway it's a shame! even considering that Rita is a member of that club of movie stars never considered by the Oscars

April 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermirko

I think I've told this tale before but when Gilda premiered in Spain it was such a scandal that some people urged by spanish Catholic church tried to disrupt the theaters showing the film. My father attended one evening just to be evacuated because of (stinking) bomb.
Some say this "Put the blame on me" number originally ended with Hayworth naked on stage and that footage was censored here and confiscated by Franco for his private screening.

April 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSeisgrados

mirko -- I totally agree that Rita was shamefully ignored by the Academy, since she gives such a fiery, dynamic performance that's still great all these years later. The funny thing is that another provocative cult performance was nominated the same year - Jennifer Jones in Duel in the Sun (who had the benefit of being Selznick-approved). Maybe that was just too much heat for one Oscar ceremony?

Seisgrados -- I really doubt whether they ever actually filmed her naked (esp. since it doesn't make much sense plot-wise) BUT that makes a fantastic urban legend of puritanical fascism. Oh, those pervy dictators!

April 19, 2011 | Registered CommenterAndreas
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