Monday, July 11, 2011

Joan Sees "Red"

This week, we return to Joan Crawford with her 1937 outing The Bride Wore Red.  Anni Pavlovitch (Joan Crawford) is a singer in a cheap dancehall. One night, her performance is seen by aristocrats Count Armalia (George Zucco) and his friend, Rudi Pal (Robert Young). The Count bets Rudi that he could take a member of the lower class, and pass her off as an aristocrat.  Rudi laughs off the suggestion, and leaves; to prove his point, the Count offers Anni a two-week vacation, all expenses paid, in an elite resort, on the proviso that she convinces Rudi she is, in fact Anna Vivaldi, an aristocrat.  Anni is soon buying clothing, including a gaudy red evening gown - something she has desired her whole life - and is off to the country to live a life of leisure for two weeks.  However, she soon decides she would rather continue to live the life of an aristocrat - by seducing and marrying the already-engaged Rudi.  

Filmed during the period of time when Crawford was married to Franchot Tone (who plays the peasant Guilio, the postmaster who loves Anni at first sight), the movie is a bit slow in pace.  Crawford is excellent as Anni, but it is rather hard to understand why Guilio remains interested in her while she repeatedly is nasty to him; just as it is equally hard to understand why Maddalena Monti (Lynne Carver) stays true to Rudi.  We know early on he is a cad and philanderer.  Why such a nice girl would stay with him is a mystery.

Much of our discussion focused on Robert Young.  A good actor, he never really seemed to find his niche before he landed on TV.  An engaging actor on the small screen, who could easily hold your attention, on the big screen he always seems overshadowed by his costars.  Here too, Crawford and Tone are much more dynamic than Young.  It is hard to understand, money withstanding, why Anni would feel anything for Rudi.  Even as a skunk, he is rather banal.  

Certainly worth a look for this wonderful cast.  And be on the lookout for Mary Phillips as Maria, a former employee of Anni's dance hall who has found a better life as a maid in the resort; and for Dickie Moore as Guilio's young cousin Pietro.  They add to the film immeasurably. You'll also get a chance to hear Crawford sing.  Here is a clip: 

 
It is also worth noting that the film was directed by Dorothy Arzner, the only female director of this period.