A poor, mercenary woman mixes with the upper crust . This type of fish-out-of-water movie was quite common in the 1930s and early 1940s. We’ve seen Barbara Stanwyck rock the wealthy ocean-going set in The Lady Eve. Joan Blondell might sacrifice her dignity to convince a rich man to help her cross the pond in Good Girls Go to Paris. And in The Bride Wore Red, Joan Crawford stars as a penniless woman whose drunken benefactor sends her off to an exclusive vacation spot where our heroine plans to marry a millionaire within a couple of weeks.
The Bride Wore Red is a drama with humor. Crawford is warm and sympathetic and yet not cloying. This is the most vulnerable I’ve ever seen this star. She can break your heart with just the hint of a tear glistening in her eye, then -stiff chin, square shoulder– it’s gone and she’s the Rock of Gibraltar. It’s a complex character.
Many people know Crawford as one half of the dueling duo in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? In that film, Crawford plays opposite Bette Davis, a person with whom she shared mutual professional admiration, but there was no love lost personally. Their well-rehearsed, off-screen squabbles often stemmed from romancing the same man. One of those men is Joan’s co-star in The Bride Wore Red – Franchot Tone.
Tone plays the happy-go-lucky poor guy who has an enormous amount of patience with ladies who plan wild schemes. [Burgess Meredith plays a similar character in Tom, Dick and Harry. James Fox plays a delightful satire of this kind of character in Thoroughly Modern Millie.] This kind of role is the listening ear and the ardent pursuer, making the lady’s task of marrying for money all the harder.
To round out the cast , playing the upper crust are Billie Burke, Reginald Owen and Robert Young (the wealthy sitting duck) who are at turns the most gullible people you’ve ever seen and also the shrewdest.
A favorite scene that tugs at my heart strings is when a waiter inconspicuously and gently instructs our nervous heroine about the correct usage of forks at the dinner table. She’s so grateful, you just want to hug her and tell her to relax. I would have loved a mentor relationship to grow out of their understanding. Alas, it is not to be.
This is director Dorothy Arzner’s 19th picture and one of her last feature films. After World War II, Azner directed for television. She would later reunite with Joan Crawford (by then married to Pepsi-Cola Chairman Alfred Steele) to direct Pepsi commercials.
The Bride Wore Red is a dark, cautionary Cinderella tale with humor sprinkled throughout. Crawford will give you a lump in your throat. Recommended.