Angel Wore Red, The (1960): Nunnally Johnson’s Spanish Civil War Melodrama, Starring Ava Gardner, Dirk Bogard, Joseph Cotten, Vittorio De Sica

Middlebrow filmmaker Nunnally Johnson helmed The Angel Wore Red, a wannabe Grahame Greene-like thriller, based on a diluted screen adaptation of Bruce Marshall’s 1953 novel.

Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

The Angel Wore Red
Angel Red.jpg

Theatrical release poster

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 also had different composers: the American score by vet Bronislau Kaper, and the Italian by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino.

Giuseppe Rotunno’s cinematography elevates this verbose melodrama, a period 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 from the order.

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 U.S. 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, later on, 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.

The subject matter–Spanish Civil War and religious quandary–is unusual for an American studio movie, but the scenario, which begins well, soon devolves into a sentimental melodrama and simplistic cliches.

Greeted with negative reviews, the movie was a big commercial flop for MGM, though it did not damage the career of Ava Gardner, who would go on to make some impressive political dramas, such as 7 Days in May.


Directed by Nunnally Johnson
Screenplay by Johnson, based on The Fair Bride, 1953 novel by Bruce Marshall
Produced by Goffredo Lombardo; Aldo Fabrizi; Enrico Maria Salerno
Cinematography Giuseppe Rotunno (b/w)
Edited by Louis R. Loeffler
Music by Bronislau Kaper
Production companies: MGM; Titanus

Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (US)

Release date: September 28, 1960

Running time: Italy: 95 min; USA: 99 min
Budget $1,843,000
Box office $935,000


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