Angel Wore Red, The (1960): Nunnally Johnson’s Spanish War Melodrama, Starring Ava Gardner and Dirk Bogarde

Middlebrow filmmaker Nunnally Johnson helmed The Angel Wore Red, adapting to the screen Bruce Marshall’s 1953 novel.

Though starring Ava Gardner and Dirk Bogarde, the film was both an artistic and commercial flop.

For the Italia version, “La Spose Bella,” Giorgio Prosperi wrote the dialogue. The two versions had different composers: the American score by vet Bronislau Kaper, and the Italian by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino.

Even Giuseppe Rotunno’s cinematography could not elevate this verbose melodrama, a eriod piece set during the Spanish Civil War.

Bogarde plays a sympathetic and socially conscious Catholic priest, Arturo Carrera.  When he realizes that fellow priests have no concern for the poor–they support the Nationalists—he resigns.

As the city is bombarded, he takes shelter with a mysterious beautiful woman named Soledad (Gardner).

The Loyalists induce a mob to torch the church, whose ranking cleric moves to hide the Blood of St John relic by giving his deputy the task of taking it to Franco’s Nationalists. As a result, both the deputy and Arturo become hunted men. Arturo seeks shelter in a local cabaret, where he again meets Soledad, who turns out to be a prostitute.

She tries to hide him from the militiamen, and a US  war correspondent (Joseph Cotten) also tries to free Arturo.  Arturo then tells the Loyalist intelligence chief he can make himself useful by comforting those wavering due to the Church’s treatment.

Out of jail, Arturo meets Soledad and the priest who has hidden the holy relic. The absence of the relic is unsettling the local Loyalist militia, suffering desertions because of the missing relic.

A well-meaning attempt to feed the old priest leads Loyalist security men to his hideout, but despite torture, the old priest refuses to give up the relic’s location.

Upon learning in a confession of the relic’s whereabouts, Arturo takes it, but claims not to know anything about it. Arrested, he is taken to see the torturing of his beloved Soledad.

Soledad is spared by the older general, who disapproves of torture. He orders all prisoners to be marched out to the battle lines, so they can fight the Nationalist advance and cover the Loyalists’ retreat.

Arturo gives Soledad the relic to take it to safety, but in a nocturnal rebel attack, she is wounded.

The Nationalist commander decides he cannot trust them and orders execution—despite Arturo’s pleas. However, when Soledad and the relic are found, she dies, but the prisoners are set free.


I am grateful to TCM for showing the film on January 22, 2018.