Friday, October 23, 2015

Review - The Woman in Red (1935)

The Woman in Red (1935)

Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Gene Raymond, Genevieve Tobin, and John Eldridge
Director: Robert Florey
Studio: Warner Bros./Vitaphone/First National
Release Date: February 1935
"I like my blue ribbons."
Tobin is back in villain mode for The Woman in Red, a rather silly drama about the lower class and upper class mixing with rather unremarkable results. Despite the usually-fiery presence of the great Barbara Stanwyck, the plot is rote and emotions barely delve beneath surface level.

Niko (Tobin) is a wealthy widow whose habits include collecting ponies and polo players. One player in particular is Johnny (Raymond), who has a roving eye. He catches sight of Niko's winning horse wrangler Shelby (Stanwyck) and gives chase. Shelby likes Niko doesn't mind being pushed around so long as she gets to spend times with the horses, but the gleeful pursuit of Shelby by Johnny unravels everything.

Shelby and Johnny run off to elope, putting both in Niko's bad graces. Before they make it back to Johnny's old money relatives on Long Island, Niko's already sent them the news and the whole family unites against Shelby.

Shelby's more enterprising than that and suggests taking Johnny's old derelict stables and refurbishing them to start a business. They lack the funds, though, and Shelby must ask old friend and new money man Gene (Eldridge) to front the money. Things grow complicated as Niko spreads rumors that Shelby and Gene are an item. Then a fateful cruise sees Shelby tied up in a (ludicrous) murder trial.

I'm probably going to get some flack for this, but Tobin is easily the film's best part. Though shaky at first, the finale, where she's slowly turning the screws into Shelby's psychological morass, is a malicious delight. It's the only part of the movie that captures the emotional turmoil Shelby is constantly subjected to with any sort of texture.

Tobin herself plays her nastiness with a a curled lip and an almost permanent sinister smile. She doesn't portray Niko as dumb, but as charming and generous, making her villainous intentions towards our heroine even more domineering. Tobin is even the subject of one of Stanwyck's trademark fiery speeches as Shelby warns Niko against spreading rumors. Letting it slide off, Tobin smiles and makes it out alive.

The only thing besides Tobin worth noting is the costume design. Besides the unfortunate doily Tobin wears in the picture above, both she and Stanwyck are treated to a number of fabulous gowns and outfits. Tobin's fox hunt outfit on display at the end of the picture (and at the top of the review) is especially sexy, giving her a masculine edge over Shelby as she relentlessly hounds her.

The movie is pretty bunk, though, and blends all too readily in with a lot of other cheap dramas of the time. The courtroom finale is about as cheap and unbelievable as you'll get for a movie of this time, with Johnny's character having seemingly read the script and resigned himself to it. Stanwyck is fine (is Stanwyck ever not?), and Gene Raymond is alright for what he is. There's just not enough at work here to make it very memorable.


Rated for mature audiences in the National Board of Review.

Film Bulletin really hammers on the film, calling it "pretty dull stuff." Its capsule review summed it up as "stupid and uninteresting."

The Educational Screen rates it as, "Hardly wholesome."

Movie Classic dissents from the rest, praising Gene Raymond and calling the film, "a good piece of entertainment."

Screenshot Gallery



The Woman in Red is available on Warner Archive DVD. You can purchase it from Amazon here.

"Not that I'm apologizing, you understand." "Oh, I understand."

No comments:

Post a Comment