Friday, April 24, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Bride Wore Red (1937) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Joan Crawford stars in the title role in THE BRIDE WORE RED (1937), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Crawford appeared with her then-husband, Franchot Tone, and Robert Young in this story of a cabaret singer who fights for a better life after fate dumps an opportunity in her lap.

That opportunity comes when Count Armalia (George Zucco), slumming in a cheap dive, decides on a whim to send singer Anni (Crawford) to a ritzy Alpine resort, passing her off as a countess.

Anni quickly decides to secure her financial future by going after marriage to the Count's wealthy friend Rudi (Young), despite Rudi already having a sweetheart in pretty young Maddelena (Lynne Carver). It's a race against time to marry Rudi before the clock strikes midnight, in a manner of speaking, and the Count discloses her identity to all via telegram.

Meanwhile, Giulio (Tone), the poor but handsome local postman and telegraph operator, has fallen for Anni. He's unconcerned about her clearly unsavory past, as well as her current scam, and offers Anni an honest relationship and a loving marriage.

This film, directed by Dorothy Arzner, had potential, given the cast, which also includes Billie Burke and Reginald Owen. However, unlike a similarly plotted Cinderella tale of a couple years later, MIDNIGHT (1939), this film has quite a dark and dour tone throughout.

Crawford, initially presented as sort of a Dietrich-esque performer, plays a hardbitten and unhappy woman who's not particularly likeable. Any sympathy and understanding she may draw due to her poverty is erased by her plotting, which hurts the film's two worthy characters, Giulio and Maddelena. The story might have worked if the film had a lighter touch, but the heavy-handed treatment is too sour.

As a side note, though Crawford is gowned by Adrian, she has an unbecoming pageboy haircut which almost looks like a helmet; it's actually rather appropriate for Anni, who is not so much looking for love as going into battle for financial security. Unfortunately, like the character, it's not especially attractive, though it works better in the scenes where Anni is happiest, in peasant dress.

Young plays an immature, slippery type who's not entirely admirable, ready to ditch sweet Carver for Crawford, though he might just be smart enough in the end to realize what he would be giving up if he doesn't marry Maddelena. I liked the scene where Young calls things off with Carver, as her class in handling it perhaps causes him to see her clearly for the first time.

20-year-old Carver may have been young, but her character has a maturity and kindness missing from all of the main cast excepting Tone; I almost wished Giulio and Maddelena could go away together, as their characters actually deserved each other.

The film's mournful mood is lightened only by the appealing Tone and his many cousins, who include Pietro (Dickie Moore) and Alberto (Frank Puglia). Puglia has a great bit as a sympathetic waiter who unobtrusively guides Anni on the ins and outs of upper-class dining. Anni's confusion about which fork to use and his subtle coaching was perhaps my favorite moment in the movie.

Ann Rutherford has a small role as a peasant girl who chases after Tone during a carnival. Another of the peasant girls is Adriana Caselotti, who that same year voiced Snow White in Disney's SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937).

All in all I found it a surprisingly sad 103 minutes. Crawford was an acquired taste for me, but I've come to enjoy her quite well. In the future I'll stick with favorite '30s Crawford titles like FORSAKING ALL OTHERS (1934), NO MORE LADIES (1935), and THE LAST OF MRS. CHEYNEY (1937).

THE BRIDE WORE RED was produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The screenplay, which had multiple contributors including Mankiewicz, was based on a play by Ferenc Molnar. The cinematography was by George Folsey.

The movie was made with MGM's typical high standards, though the mixture of Mammoth Lakes locations with obvious backdrops is a bit awkward; it might have been better to choose either the realistic or the fairy tale look and stick with it.

The Warner Archive DVD includes the trailer. The print and sound are of good quality.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


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