The connections of “Gilda”, a mythical film, and the arrival of Nazi leaders in Argentina

Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford talking to Steven Geray in “Gilda” (1946) (IMDB/Columbia Pictures)

Few films have as much backstory as Gilda. Behind the tumultuous love story of three that everyone remembers from this film, and the glove that is removed Rita Hayworth As he sings “Put the Blame on Mame”, there is a very sordid story: the escape of the greatest criminals of the 20th century.

Rita Hayworth singing ‘Put the Blame on Mame’ at Gilda

The background of the film

From a real context, Gilda Imagine the network of a very powerful cartel or oligopoly during World War II, that of tungsten or tungsten, a ceramic material as hard as diamond that coated missiles and other weapons. Like many materials developed for military use, it was later used as a material for civilian use to make light bulbs and tools that drill through walls, cut tiles, and sharpen knives.

Gilda premiered in 1946 and was performed by Rita Hayworth (gilda), George MacReady (Ballin Mundson) and Glen Ford (Johnny Farrell). The film tells the story of Farrell, a small-time gambler who is hired by a Buenos Aires casino owner, Ballin Mundson, to uncover cheating players.

Soon, Farrell becomes the owner’s right-hand man, allowing him to run the business his way. When Mundson returns married to a beautiful woman, Gilda, Farrell’s former partner, the most famous love triangle in 1940s cinema begins.

Rita Hayworth in another scene from Gilda (IMDB/Columbia Pictures)
Rita Hayworth in another scene from Gilda (IMDB/Columbia Pictures)

Ballin Mundson’s character could be the alter ego of Fritz Thyssenaffiliated with the Nazi party and son of the German industrialist and magnate August Thyssenowner of specialized steel companies that produced arms and ammunition for the German army.

Fritz Thyssen worked for the family company and was discharged from the army in 1914 due to poor lung condition. In 1940 he emigrated to France and began the paperwork for emigration to Argentina. Little is known about when he arrived, but he became a national and lived there until his death in 1951.

Why and how did the Nazis travel to Argentina?

In 1933, a decree came into force in Argentina that allowed the reunification of families. After completing two years of residence, a call to a relative could be made. Between 1933 and 1945, almost 7,000 Germans entered Argentina, almost all of them Jews.

In 1934 a new decree related to tourist trips was issued. The people who traveled in first class on the ship (the previous ones did it in second or third class) had only to present a tourism certificate issued by the Argentine consular authority of the embarkation point and their passport. In 1945, 24 German tourists entered Argentina by sea.

For many Nazi leaders seeking to flee from the Allies, this transatlantic voyage was their last escape route. These routes have been called rat lines (rat trails, arrows), which is how in seafaring jargon the ladders made with ropes used by sailors to climb to the top of the sails are called, especially when the ship sank. It was possibly his last chance to stay alive. In the end, the nautical origin of the word turned out to be ironically appropriate for Nazis fleeing Europe.

The tungsten or tungsten cartel

Tungsten is a strategic material. Tungsten carbide is a very hard ceramic compound belonging to the group of cermets (ceramic metals). It has the highest melting point of all metals (3,422 ºC) and a high density, as well as being very thermally and chemically stable and an excellent conductor. In short, it is the hardest material found in nature (after diamond) and is quite environmentally friendly.

In Gilda, the character of Ballin Mundson controls the cartel of this metal. When a man turns up dead at the casino, Mundson has to improvise. He decides to leave Farrell as his heir and instructs her to open his safe, where he will find some signed letters. Shortly after, he fakes his death to avoid being persecuted.

Glen Ford and Rita Hayworth in Gilda (IMDB/Columbia Pictures)
Glen Ford and Rita Hayworth in Gilda (IMDB/Columbia Pictures)

In the safe, Farrell discovers that he has inherited a tungsten mine, a few patents, and a dozen small businesses. He then meets with the other twelve members of the cartel to tell them that nothing is going to change and, faced with the protests of some of them, he concludes that “only one should lead them”.

Later, a German courier informs Farrell that “the patents belong to the principals”, that is, that Mundson was one more in the cartel. He explains that Mundson was given permission to buy the patents (and advanced the money) on the condition that he return them after the war in a “gentleman’s agreement.”

Mundson had taken to Argentina some of the most relevant patents for civil use. The presence of the messengers and the persecution of the Argentine police lead us to suspect that perhaps some of them could have military use.

At the end?

The film recreates a situation – that of the tungsten cartel – that could have happened in real life based on the stories of the German emigrants to Argentina, but it is still a fable. Currently, the largest producers of tungsten are Russia, China and Vietnam, but it is not possible to speak of cartels, but rather of markets for raw materials (including markets for rare minerals).

On the big screen, when Mudson fakes his death, Gilda, now a widow, marries Farrell. After several accusations of infidelity and arguments between the new couple, they reconcile. But Mundson discovers them when he appears by surprise. Attempting to attack them, he is killed.

The Argentine police allege that, as he had pretended to be already dead, the case would not be investigated. They then ask Farrell to show them where the safe is. Farrell discovers it and it is interpreted that all the documents of the cartel remain in the hands of the police, while the couple stays together. An acceptable end to the love triangle that is the central plot of the film.

I hope that at the end of this article the reader will see Gilda paying attention to how the film elevates a middling player to the status of absolute boss of a cartel in which the leaders were German Nazis.

*Ana Isabel Rosado Cubero is Professor of Economics, Complutense University of Madrid.

Originally posted on The Conversation.

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