The Angel Wore Red
Cast & Crew
Vittorio De Sica
In 1936 during the Spanish Civil War, anti-clerical Loyalists are in command of a small city where disillusioned priest Arturo Carrera confronts his Bishop. Despairing the church's "empty piety," Arturo forsakes his vows and leaves the cathedral dressed in civilian clothes. That evening, as a rebel air raid sends the city into chaos, Arturo takes shelter in a building where he meets Soledad, a cabaret girl. Meanwhile, the Bishop gives a sacred relic, the blessed blood of Saint John, to priest Canon Rota, ordering him to take the relic to the rebels, who are faithful to the church. Soon after, a Loyalist mob breaks into the cathedral, where they ransack the altars and murder several priests. That night, the Loyalists post descriptions of the two escaped priests, Arturo and Rota, through out the city. Fleeing the police, Arturo slips into a cabaret and takes a private room with Soledad. Unaware that Arturo is a priest on the run, she reveals that she cares little for priests, but does not believe people should harm the church. When soldiers enter the cabaret in search of Arturo, the brave Soledad, realizing his real identity, takes him to her apartment, where Arturo admits that "his faith has failed him." Despite his protests that she not become involved in the danger, Soledad insists she has had a premonition that Arturo is special and must be protected. When soldiers suddenly knock on the outside door, Arturo surrenders to avoid implicating Soledad. Within days, the frantic parishioners have covered the city in graffitti asking for the location of the relic. After cynical Communist Gen. Clave arrives in town, American correspondent Hawthorne, who is writing a story about the relic, explains the local legend. Whoever has possession of the relic is said to be impossible to defeat. Despite Clave's own indifference, he orders his soldiers to find the relic to help instill confidence in the Loyalist cause among the townspeople. Although Arturo is unable to provide information about the location of the relic, Capt. Botargas accepts his offer to work for the government and help the Catholic soldiers reconcile their faith with the Loyalist's socialist agenda. After being set free, Arturo seeks consolation, friendship and finally romance with Soledad. One day, after Arturo explains to the soldiers at a public square that the relic cannot bring them victory, Rota, disguised in civilian clothes, tells him he is hiding in the church and begs for help, but Arturo refuses. Later, Soledad announces that she has quit the cabaret and professes her love to Arturo. With equal affection, Arturo explains his feelings are like that of a young schoolboy with his first love, an innocent love. That night Loyalist reinforcements arrive, but are many men short because of desertions caused by fear of the relic being in enemy hands. Meanwhile, Soledad, having learned of Rota's plea from Arturo, goes to the church where soldiers capture her and Rota. Botargas interrogates Soledad about her involvement with Rota and Arturo, threatening torture if she does not comply. Meanwhile Rota, sentenced to execution as a traitor, asks for Arturo to hear his confession. During their meeting, Rota admits that he, like Arturo, did not believe in the relic but after weeks of walking among the people, realizes that it is the people's faith in the relic that gives them hope in God. He then tells Arturo that the priests were all tortured and then killed for refusing to give information about the relic. Moved by Rota's speech, Arturo asks for the relic's location. Arturo finds the relic, but is immediately arrested outside the church. Unknown to his captors, Arturo maintains possession of the relic by hiding it in his clothing. The next morning, Clave sends over two hundred prisoners, including Arturo and Soledad, under armed guard to be a decoy for the advancing enemy. During a break in the march, Arturo tells Soledad he has the relic. That night, as they camp near Soledad's village, they realize that they will face the rebel forces the next morning. While the prisoners pray, Soledad notices Arturo is torn between his love for her and his responsibility as a priest to ease the pain of those suffering around him. Botargas calls for Soledad and reminds her that the priest will reject her to return to his profession. He then offers her freedom in trade for information about the relic. Later, after Soledad finds Arturo accepting the villagers' confessions, she agrees to Botargas' terms. That night, Soledad admits her arrangement with Botargas to Arturo, but suggests she give Botargas a false location and then take the relic away herself. Arturo agrees to the plan, but when Soledad tells Botargas the false location, he refuses to set her free. In a surprise attack, the rebels begin shooting indiscriminately among the group, wounding Soledad, who then stumbles along the path to her village clutching the relic. When the rebels call into the church where the prisoners are held, Arturo explains to a rebel officer that they are prisoners of the Loyalists. To prove their fidelity to the church, Arturo claims to have had possession of the relic. The officer in charge replies that unless Arturo can produce the relic, he will have to execute all of them after a priest hears their confessions. Meanwhile, a rebel soldier finds Soledad collapsed holding the relic. The following morning, as Arturo prepares the prisoner to meet their fate, he suddenly hears Soledad weakly calling his name and walks out to find that a soldier has brought both Soledad and the relic to the church. After a delirious Soledad, believing she has lost the relic, asks for his forgiveness and then dies, the young officer frees the prisoners. While Soledad is returned to her village in a coffin, Arturo kisses the holy relic and places it in a sacred monument.
Vittorio De Sica
Enrico Maria Salerno
Gustavo De Nardo
The Angel Wore Red
Based on a novel called The Fair Bride and written and directed by Nunnally Johnson, who penned many excellent earlier screenplays including The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), and The Woman in the Window (1944), The Angel Wore Red was praised for its writing but criticized for its direction. "The dialogue bristles with flashes of intelligence and wit," said The New York Times. But Variety suggested that Johnson might have been in over his head with the demanding locations and in controlling the tone of his story.
The story's Spanish Civil War backdrop seemed to come off as especially murky. It's against this canvas that Dirk Bogarde's disillusioned priest forsakes his vows and falls in love with Ava Gardner's kindhearted prostitute, before ultimately choosing the church over sex. The movie doesn't really take sides in the war, and consequently the Loyalists and the rebels are each alternatively seen as good and bad. That said, any film about a romance between a prostitute and a priest was bound to have a hard time pleasing critics and finding an audience; sure enough, The New York Times declared the premise to be of "questionable taste."
By all accounts, Nunnally Johnson did have his hands full on this production. Shot in Rome and Sicily because the Spanish government wouldn't permit the story to be filmed in Spain, Johnson found the vagaries of Italian film production quite startling. His Italian producer, for example, seemed primarily concerned with regulating the numbers of Catholics and Communists being employed on set. In Sicily, the Mafia controlled the extras as well as those placed in charge of them. One such assistant suddenly left town when he received a death threat scrawled across his bathroom mirror. Other assistants would get extras to cry when needed by hitting them. Late one night on location, Johnson decided that this would be his last film as director. He later described the moment: "What the hell am I doing here? Two in the morning. In Sicily. At the age of sixty. On a slippery rock. On a cold night. Saying 'put the camera here.' This is the end of it. Let somebody else say, 'Put the camera here.' I should be home in bed." He'd simply had enough, and went back to being a writer.
Toward the end of production on The Angel Wore Red, Johnson learned that his producer was secretly editing the film without Johnson's approval. As a result, Johnson never had a chance to complete his own cut and was ungraciously sent home after the film wrapped. "The day I finished the photography," he said, "I was given a ticket to leave town. I never saw the final cut. I've never seen the picture."
Dirk Bogarde, in his memoir, shared an interesting but also dispiriting account of the production. Cast as the priest after Montgomery Clift decided not to do the picture, Bogarde recalled: "I had only been on the film a very few days before I realized that Mr. Clift had shown remarkable sagacity in withdrawing from the production. We started off, mercifully free from studio interference, in a semidocumentary style, no make-up, grainy, real - which pleased me. Ava was equally happy. Hair scraped back, skin shining, in a cheap floral dress, she made a perfect foil to my shabby cassocked priest. But after the first ten days' rushes had been viewed by an astonished, not to say shocked, Hollywood, we were ordered to re-shoot and gloss everything up. Ava was bundled into a wardrobe by Fontana and I was tidied up generally. Nunnally Johnson, our gentle director, grew sadder by the day, and finally Ava and I lost heart and threw in the sponge helplessly; you couldn't buck the system."
Johnson had much to say about working with Ava Gardner. On the one hand, "she was a real headache. She traveled with 30 pieces of luggage, all of which had to go with the plane as she was terrified of losing it. She was a sultana in terms of her accommodations, the accoutrements of a star. She had a succession of secretaries who collapsed under the strain of handling all of these things... She had to be escorted to nightclubs; she couldn't go alone. She'd stay up all night. Even when we shot in Sicily she found all-night places."
On the other hand, Johnson adored her and thought her a fine actress, even though she was terribly insecure in her own abilities: "Sometimes she would do a scene particularly well. I would thank her and she would fall in my arms and say, 'Christ, you know I can't act.' And I'd say, 'What is it then? It's just as good as acting.' But she never believed me... Ava is like Marilyn. She's really frightened. She would cry a lot, she had no confidence in herself, she felt she couldn't act, she had no home, no base, no family, she missed them terribly, she felt she'd missed out in life. It was hard to believe her unhappiness. When you looked at her, even then, she was...the most beautiful human being in the world."
Also in the cast are Joseph Cotten and the famous Italian director Vittorio De Sica, here playing a disenchanted general. De Sica's voice was dubbed, and not very well. ("Jarringly incompatible," said Variety.) De Sica knew a thing or two about the shadiness of Italian film unions and bosses: He demanded $1000 in cash every day before going in front of the cameras because he didn't trust he'd otherwise get paid.
Producer: Goffredo Lombardo
Director: Nunnally Johnson
Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson; Bruce Marshall (novel "The Fair Bride" uncredited); Giorgio Prosperi (dialogue Italian version)
Cinematography: Guiseppe Rotunno
Art Direction: Piero Filippone
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Film Editing: Louis Loeffler
Cast: Ava Gardner (Soledad), Dirk Bogarde (Arturo Carrera), Joseph Cotten (Hawthorne), Vittorio De Sica (Gen. Clave), Aldo Fabrizi (Canon Rota), Arnoldo Foà (Insurgent major), Finlay Currie (Bishop), Rossanna Rory (Mercedes), Enrico Maria Salerno (Capt. Botargus).
BW-98m. Closed captioning. Letterboxed.
by Jeremy Arnold
Dirk Bogarde, Snakes and Ladders
Charles Higham, Ava: A Life Story
Nora Johnson, Flashback: Nora Johnson on Nunnally Johnson
Tom Stempel, Screenwriter: The Life and Times of Nunnally Johnson
The Angel Wore Red
Working titles of the film were Temptation, The Fair Bride and La Sposa Bella. The opening title card reads: "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents Ava Gardner, Dirk Bogarde (by arrangement with the Rank Organization) in The Angel Wore Red a Titanus-Spectator Production." The opening credits include the following written prologue: "1936 a city in Spain about to experience the cruelest of all wars... a Civil War." Voice-over narration by Joseph Cotten as the reporter "Hawthorne" introduces "Arturo," the film's protagonist; provides updates on the warring factions and follows the story of the relic's location. As noted in several reviews of the film, the voices of Italian actors Vittorio De Sica and Aldo Fabrizi were dubbed into English.
The Angel Wore Red was based on the story of a young priest who had forsaken his vows to the Catholic Church during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). As dramatized in the film, Spain had become ungovernable due to a number of political factions, which divided the country and in February 1936, a Popular Front government, led by the Republicans, often called "Loyalists," came to power. The Republicans were supported by Communists, anarchists and union members and were aided by Communist Russia.
The Nationalists, often called Falangists, were aided by fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, fought the Republicans with the help of the Spanish military. During the war, the Republicans banned religious services, desecrated churches and murdered thousands of priests. By March of 1939, the Republicans fell to General Francisco Franco, who led the Nationalists to victory and became the Spanish dictator in 1939, where he remained in the highest position of authority over Spain until 1975. For more information about the Spanish Civil War, see the entry for the 1943 For Whom the Bell Tolls (AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50).
Modern sources add Leonardo Porzio and Renato Terra to the cast. According to a November 3, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was to have been shot in Spain, however, due to the unflattering portrayal of Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, Franco declined permission. Portions of the film were shot on location in Rome, Sicily and Monterossi, Italy.
Released in United States Fall September 1960
Released in United States Fall September 1960