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The Bride Wore Red (1937) was Joan Crawford's seventh and final film with Franchot Tone, to whom she was married from 1935 to 1939. Their marriage was already coming apart during filming, due in large part to Tone's drinking and philandering and also because of Crawford's agitation about a series of miscarriages she had suffered and the downward spiral of her career at MGM. Shortly after the release of The Bride Wore Red she was among the stars named as "box-office poison" by the National Theater Distributors of America. Today, however, the movie is championed by Crawford's partisans as one of her best and most representative of its period.
It had been Tone's idea that Crawford star in the film, adapted from The Girl from Trieste, an unperformed play by Ferenc Molnar (author of Liliom, the source material for Carousel, 1956). With the death of production executive Irving Thalberg the year before, studio head Louis B. Mayer had begun to exercise his personal preference for completely wholesome screen fare and had the Molnar story rewritten so that it was no longer about a prostitute trying to go straight but became a Cinderella tale complete with a happy ending.
Crawford plays a cabaret singer who masquerades as a wealthy socialite at a fancy Swiss resort and steals a rich playboy (Robert Young) from his fiancee -- only to realize that she has fallen in love with the town's humble postman (Tone). Crawford warbles a Franz Waxman/Gus Kahn song, "Who Wants Love?" Billie Burke, usually cast as whimsical comic relief, is quite effective as a sharp-tongued Contessa.
Luise Rainer had originally been set to star in the film, under the direction of Dorothy Arzner, one of the few female directors of Hollywood's studio era. Arzner said in a 1976 interview that Rainer was suspended by MGM "for marrying a Communist" (playwright Clifford Odets), allowing Crawford to step into the role. Crawford initially was excited about working with Arzner, but their relationship grew so chilly as the film progressed that they stopped speaking and resorted to communicating through a series of notes delivered by studio publicist Maxine Thomas.
Crawford's dazzling wardrobe, as important as any element in the movie, was created by MGM's top designer, Adrian. The title outfit, a form-fitting sheath in varying shades of red to further emphasize the Crawford figure, cost a reported $10,000 and included 30 pounds of, or two million, bugle beads. The dress reappeared briefly in the Marx Brothers movie, The Big Store (1941), worn by a model in a fashion show. Cracked Groucho: "This is a bright red dress, but Technicolor is sooo expensive!"
Producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Director: Dorothy Arzner
Screenplay: Tess Slesinger, Bradbury Foote, Waldo Salt (uncredited), Catherine Turney (uncredited) from play The Girl from Trieste by Ferenc Molnar
Cinematography: George J. Folsey
Editing: Adrienne Fazan
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Costume Design: Adrian
Original Music: Franz Waxman
Principal Cast: Joan Crawford (Anni Pavlovitch, aka Anne Vivaldi), Franchot Tone (Giulio, the Postmaster), Robert Young (Rudolph "Rudi" Pal), Billie Burke (Contessa di Meina), Reginald Owen (Admiral Monti), Lynne Carver (Maddelena Monti).
BW-104m. Closed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe