Mar 16, 2016

On DVD: Ladies of the Night Gina Lollobrigida and Ava Gardner

Go Naked in the World (1961) is a glossy, glamorous mass of big feelings. It's obsessed with horrible, naughty, glorious sex. The pre-code era is limping away though, so it's okay to talk about it, and even to indulge in eroticism, but somebody is going to pay.

Gina Lollobrigida is high-priced prostitute Julie Cameron. She attracts the attention of the aimless Nick Stratton (Anthony Franciosa), son of the famous, and overbearing self-made millionaire Pete Stratton (Ernest Borgnine). Nick does not know how Julie pays for her lush apartment, or that his father is one of her clients. He doesn't seem like the sharpest tool in the drawer.

In a flashy role that suits her perfectly, Lollobrigida glides around in furs, jewels and figure-skimming cocktail dresses. She carries herself with an expectation of luxury. Without it though she would still be entrancing, confident in her allure, and perfectly in control of every little shrug of the shoulder or elegant flick of the wrist. The actress doesn't have much of a script to work with here, but all she really needs is the spotlight.

While Franciosa can sizzle with Lollobrigida, he doesn't make much of an impression on his own. It's appropriate for his role as a man struggling to distinguish himself and escape from the shadow of his strong-willed father. Though he is younger and more handsome, you can't help fixating on Borgnine in their scenes together. Even when the elder Stratton is being an insufferable bully it's mesmerizing to watch him.

This is the sort of lavish drama where people announce ideas more than they actually communicate with each other. It flirts with being unintentionally funny, but doesn't quite rate as camp. Everyone has exciting, nostril-flaring emotions, and there's not much of substance to back them up, but this is a spectacle, and thanks to Lollobrigida and Borgnine, often a very entertaining one.

The Angel Wore Red (1960) is a more downbeat drama, set during the Spanish Civil War. Ava Gardner is Soledad, a so-called "cabaret girl". She falls for Father Arturo Carrera (Dirk Bogarde), a priest who has rejected his vows, though he is still hunted by Loyalists fighting the church.

This was a sad time in Gardner's life, and you can see it in her performance. The long nights and drinking show in the bags under her eyes, and there's a sort of weary resignation in her demeanor. She was starting to sour on making movies, and after the production she had planned to retire from the screen. Fortunately that did not happen, as Ava had a knock-out performance in The Night of the Iguana (1964) ahead of her.

According to Bogarde, Gardner lost her enthusiasm for the project when she was forced to wear glamorous make-up and a girdle after producers saw the early rushes. She wanted to be a respectable actress; they didn't want her to attempt an Anna Magnani impersonation. While it is odd to see the actress turned out so impeccably in what are supposed to be such trying times, not to mention Bogarde with his perfectly fluffed hair and pressed shirts, her, and his, beauty are undeniably thrilling.

Bogarde and Gardner got on well. Their friendship would last beyond the production, and they would even act together in another trying film, Permission to Kill, in 1974. Their mutual sympathy translates into a touching onscreen romance. I'd never put them together, but they're a charming pair.

Bogarde is warmer and more intimate than many of Gardner's screen partners. The actor brings out her more grounded side, because he doesn't treat her like a sex goddess. He cherishes her, and she responds with a less breathy and more down-to-earth performance than in her earlier films.

In a supporting role as a broadcast journalist, Joseph Cotton is uncharacteristically over-the-top. He made the odd choice to shout most of his lines in a misguided attempt to play an eccentric. Vittorio De Sica is equally unusual as a British soldier. His dialogue appears to have been dubbed, but there was no way to disguise his clearly Italian body language--especially those expressive hands.

In his memoirs, Bogarde wrote that The Angel Wore Red opened, "apparently to ten eskimos in North Alaska, closed the next day and sank without trace." Perhaps it's no tragedy that this film isn't better known, but it is definitely of interest, particularly because of the intriguing chemistry between Gardner and Bogarde.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.


  1. It's wonderful how these obscure movies can get a second chance with new technology. Love it.

  2. That's part of the reason why it's so important to me to keep writing these reviews! I just want people to know how many treasures are out there--how many joyful moments to be had.

  3. I just got this at the New York Public Library. I agree with your review, only are you sure De Sica was a British officer? I took him for maybe a Russian because the Russians aided the Loyalists, but it was never clear to me what he was.

  4. Hi Michael--It's been so long since I've watched this that I can't remember why I thought the De Sica character was British. Perhaps I was responding to the way he spoke English? In any case, I did a little digging and he was supposed to be a Communist, so it would make sense that his character was Russian.