Count Armalia believes that the luck of birth is all that separates the rich from the poor. To test his theory, he sends Anni, who is a singer in a dive, to a ritzy resort for two weeks. With fancy new clothes and ersatz status, Anni decides that she likes the rich life. But with time running out, she needs a rich husband and Rudi is the one she chooses. Only it takes longer than two weeks for Rudi to dump his fiancée and propose to her. In the weeks that she has been there, she finds that she loves Giulio, the postman with the small house and the donkey cart. But will she give up love for wealth....Written by
Tony Fontana <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Originally, in 1937, Dorothy Arzner had been assigned by MGM producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1937 to direct Luise Rainer in "The Girl from Trieste," an unperformed Ferenc Molnár play about a prostitute trying to reform herself who discovers the hypocrisies of the respectable class which she aspires to. After the death of Irving Thalberg, Louis B. Mayer was put in charge of MGM. Mayer disliked the perceived exploitation of the female lead's character, and insisted that Molnár's play be rewritten so that it was no longer about a prostitute, but instead a slightly dark Cinderella story with a happy ending. Retitled by Mankiewicz as The Bride Wore Red (1937), Rainer withdrew and was replaced by Joan Crawford. See more »
I've never been a fan of Joan Crawford, so it's always a surprise to find a performance of hers that really wins me over. I liked her in Grand Hotel (as 'Flaemmchen,') and I liked her again, very much, as Anni, the cheap night-club singer masquerading as a lady. Often seen in hard and brittle roles, Crawford has a very different look in this film, and expresses a vulnerability that brings her character to life. (Billie Burke is also notable, in the small but juicy role of the acid-tongued Contessa. And Franchot Tone has never been more likable.)
The Bride Wore Red is certainly built according to studio formula, but it also embodies all the earnest craftsmanship that characterized the studio system. The film at times seems clichéd, but it fully redeems itself through genuine empathy for the characters. And through its very strong premise: a 'scarlet' woman driven by hunger for the good life, who is given a slim chance of joining the upper class - provided she's cold and deceitful enough.
Until the final act, I really felt that the film could have gone either way: warm-hearted romance or bitter tragedy. The delicate balancing act makes it hard to achieve a satisfying pay-off. But the ending does succeed, thanks to a couple of nicely orchestrated scenes, and to the talent and charisma of Ms Crawford. These do make us believe that Anni could only choose as she does.
I was a bit sorry the film didn't delve just a little deeper into the moral and social dimensions. Anni's real problem is not what she wants, but rather what she may have to give up in order to get it. That distinction is not made entirely clear, leaving the film a bit too reliant on the old cliché that 'wealth doesn't bring true happiness.' But there's more going on here. Anni's 'tragic flaw' is not the hunger itself, but her willingness to give up honesty, morality and even true love. This distinction becomes almost subliminal, but it's there, and gives the film a slightly sharper edge. Anni is a character we can identify with and possibly admire, even when she's doing something despicable.
If you're in the mood for a traditional, old-style Hollywood entertainment, you won't go wrong with The Bride Wore Red. This is one of the good ones, a film I'd gladly watch again any time.
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