Joan Crawford in all her lustrous career has never been in a production so glitterful and glamorful. Especially for women it has the S.R.O. brilliance of fashion's fascinations (designer Adrian in his most Parisienne mood). But romance rears its handsome head in the pleasant persons of Franchot Tone who is grand in it and Robert Young (he's flipper than in 'I Met Him in Paris').Motion Picture Daily, on September 24, 1937, reviewed the film this way:
Generally it attains standards expected of Joan Crawford by her clientele. Although it is fantastic in some phases of its amplification, the story is organically sound. The excessive and prolonged dialogue, however, and consistent lack of action sometimes blunts sustained interest...Naturally, Miss Crawford dominates the picture, but Young, Owen, Miss Burke, Miss Carver and Zucco are adequate and Tone supplies the spark that gives "The Bride Wore Red" its zip...The film is aimed to engage the attention of sophisticates and may prove somewhat boring to ordinary folks.The film features a top-notch cast of Joan Crawford, Franchot Tone, Robert Young, Billie Burke, Reginald Owen, Lynne Carver, George Zucco, Mary Phillips, and young Dickie Moore. On top of its cast, the romance also boasts a smart story and breathtaking costumes and sets. Most exciting to me, of course, is that Franchot is finally given a substantial role in a Crawford picture that is not a wealthy playboy or second comedic lead! In fact, Robert Young takes on the wealthy gentleman role in this scenario. Franchot shines in the meaningful part of the humble and lovestruck postman. I enjoy all of Joan and Franchot's films together, but The Bride Wore Red presents the best opportunity for the couple to act with each other in dramatic, charged scenes.
Count Armalia (George Zucco) aims to prove that he can turn any common girl into a lady and hopes to humiliate wealthy playboy Rudi Pal (Robert Young), who insists he can tell a lady of good breeding from a peasant, in the process. Anni (Joan Crawford) becomes Armalia's target when he sees her singing in the "lowest dive" in town. Armalia promises Anni two weeks at a ritzy hotel with clothes and dresses all on his dime. Hungry and downtrodden, Anni jumps at the chance of becoming someone else for a while and takes Armalia up on his offer. He renames her Ann Vivaldi and makes up a family background for her that will help her entire society as a debutante.
In her disguise as a wealthy lady, Ann's first run-in is with the friendly, local postman Guilio (Franchot Tone). In their private ride to the hotel, Ann and Guilio are pleasant and engaged with one another. A kind postman with quiet assurance, Guilio philosophizes about people’s places in the world, the wonder of nature, the beauty of sadness and joy all as he sorts the day's mail. “You’re the strangest postman I’ve ever met,” Ann says to him before they reach their destination.
Ann tries her best to impersonate a lady of wealth, while being struck by the newness of everything around her. Ann's childlike joy at seeing baby birds in a nest outside her window and stunned first look at her gorgeous room reveal the underprivileged Anni's true experience.
After such a nice exchange on their ride together, Guilio approaches Ann as she dines alone in the restaurant. He is visibly hurt when she puts on airs, flippantly calls him "Postman", and pries into his personal life. Anni apologizes, but is soon distracted by Rudi Pal (Robert Young) and his fiancee Maddelena Monti (Lynne Carver). Rudi has been engaged to Maddelena since they were adolescents, but her presence doesn't stop him from brazenly flirting with Ann.
Having had a taste of the finer things in life, Ann is determined that she will not just be an experiment. She plots to ingratiate herself into Rudi's social circle and never return to her position at the seedy bar. Despite her maid's pleas to find happiness on her own, Anni refuses to look back. (The maid and Anni actually know each other from their past lives when they were both cabaret dancers.)
Although she does her best impression of a debutante, the smitten Rudi sees that Ann is different from other ladies. He says that when they are out in nature, Ann is "like an animal set free. You try to run in all directions at once."
After frolicking together during the day, Ann and Rudi return to get the mail that Guilio, whom Rudi describes as quaint and impertinent, has delivered. Guilio is delighted to present Ann with her first letter in 10 days, but Ann belittles the clearly disappointed Guilio. Ann makes a misstep when she is asked to read her letter from the Count aloud. Knowing that the letter is actually from her employer at the bar, Ann says that Armalia asks about the Contessa. Suspicions arise immediately since the Contessa (Billie Burke) has only once met the Count and disliked him immensely.
Sensitive to Ann's feelings, Guilio can see that something is wrong and stays behind to comfort her. Ann is immediately cruel to him. Guilin confronts her about her swift personality changes, confiding that he thought she "was the most gracious lady" he'd ever met and had stopped going to the peasants' picnics since he met her. Guilio's sincere affection and proud description of his home bring the real Anni's personality back for a moment before she becomes snobbish to him once more.
Ann sets her sights on becoming Mrs. Rudi Pal and living the life of luxury, but discovers that a telegram from Armalia revealing her true background to the Contessa will be arriving any moment. Eager to buy more time and gain a proposal out of Rudi, Ann knows she must intercept the telegram.
When she reaches his lovely modest home, Guilio has already read the telegram and feels it's his duty to deliver it. But his affection for Anni and eagerness for her to explain herself puts his delivery on hold. Guilio invites Ann in and gently questions her about her early years. Hoping that she will confess her true identity to him, Guilio listens as Anni boldly reimagines her childhood and home. When she breaks down in tears, Guilio embraces Anni, the girl he loves no matter who she was before. Anni snaps back into debutante Ann mode and demands to know what right Guilio has to love her, before running out of the house and falling down the stairs.
Anni and Guilio passionately kiss on his front lawn and he abandons the delivery of the fateful telegram. The festa is coming up and Guilio assumes that Anni will be there waiting for him. As he giddily waits, we see multiple peasant girls chase after Guilio and the edelweiss he carries for his one true love. When he stumbles onto Ann, Rudi, and Maddelena, Guilio sweetly extends the edelweiss to Anni but is coldly rebuffed.
In an affectionate moment between Ann and Rudi, Ann pressures Rudi to leave Maddelena and marry her instead. Guilio witnesses this scene and his face as he witnesses Rudi kiss the woman he loves is so telling. Everytime I see the pain in the lovestruck Guilio's face as he sees his girl go after another man, it completely breaks my heart. Franchot does such a brilliant job of conveying how much love the postman holds for Anni. The viewer can witness Guilio's complete devotion to Anni in every tender glance and soft-spoken statement that Franchot gives in his performance.
When he privately confronts her about her shift of affection yet again, Guilio is stunned to hear Anni say that she is in love with him. Anni says she expects to love Guilio more each day of her life, but that she intends to marry Rudi anyway because "hunger is stronger than love." There is so much passion between Franchot and Joan's characters as they embrace in this scene (and earlier back at his house). It's so obvious that these two belong together, but it is impossible to know whether Anni will realize that love is more important than money and social position.
Guilio refuses to let Anni enter a loveless marriage based on deception and hopes that she will confess her true identity to Rudi the following day. If she does not confess and accepts Rudi's marriage proposal, Guilio says he will deliver the damning telegram.
In the final scenes of the film, Anni must decide whether to confess her secret to Rudi or to elope with him before others find out. Anni decks herself out in a shimmery, bold red gown to face Rudi. Will Anni elope with Rudi under false pretenses? Will she confess before Guilio delivers the telegram to the suspecting Contessa? Will Rudi choose Ann's love if he knows of her true background? Will Ann choose Guilio's love over social prominence? Will any of these characters end up together at all?! With limited time to act, Ann must weigh her options and make a decision...but will it be the right one?
The character of Anni, all ambition and determination on the outside with a sentimental heart and deeply felt emotions on the inside, perfectly showcases Joan's acting strengths and that amazing face of hers. Likewise, Franchot's Guilio, with his laidback approach to life and devotion to life-long love, perfectly complements Anni (and is the most handsome postman I've ever seen). Getting lost in Arzner's The Bride Wore Red, with its well-written script and perfect casting, is a pleasurable way to spend an afternoon. Thankfully, Warner Archive has released it on DVD.
During the making of the film, Film Daily published this candid photo of the cast (minus Joan, unfortunately) having fun at a piano between takes. Lynne Carver is at the piano with Robert Young and Franchot in the chorus.
If you'd like to read my post on Franchot and Joan's relationship, it can be found here. For all the wonderful posts on Joan in the Joan Crawford Blogathon, check out the roster over at In the Good Old Days of Hollywood.
Motion Picture Daily. September 24, 1937. page 22.
Silver Screen. October 1937.
The Film Daily. March 20, 1939.