When wealthy Ballin Mundson (George Macready) rescues down at his heels gambler Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) and invites him to the Buenos Aires casino he owns, both men get more than they wagered on.
Farrell convinces Mundson to hire him as casino manager, but is shocked when Mundson introduces his new bride, and Farrell's old flame, Gilda (Rita Hayworth).Though Farrell is unwavering in his loyalty to his employer, and he and Gilda treat each other with contempt, Mundson realizes that the torch never died for either of the former lovers.
Ordered to guard Gilda, Farrell tries to convince himself that he's protecting Mundson's interests, but Gilda sees through his self-deception. Meanwhile, Mundson reveals to Farrell that his primary business is control of an international tungsten cartel that he plans to use to further his fascist ends.
With the police closing in on the cartel, Mundson fakes his death, apparently leaving Gilda and Farrell free to marry. They do so: Gilda for love, but Farrell to punish her for being unfaithful to Mundson.
When Mundson returns to kill them, it is he who dies, thereby freeing the lovers to apologize to each other and return to the U.S. Charles Vidor's Gilda is a voyeuristic film noir treat that engages the viewer in a complex web of sado-masochistic triangles.
When, for example, Gilda performs her signature number, Put the Blame on Mame, she is not simply enraging both Mundson and Farrell with her open sexuality, she is also crying out in pain for the love she is being denied.