As regular readers of this blog know, the level of devotion I possess for Barbara Stanwyck is very high. I consider her to be one of the greatest, most versatile actresses ever on the screen, and will take any and every opportunity to watch one of her movies and, according to a recent calculation, I have seen 63 of them. So you can imagine my joy when I discovered a Barbara Stanwyck movie in the Warner Archive that I had not previously seen, and naturally I took the opportunity to request it for the blog. The movie is Woman in Red, a drama made for Warner Bros. in 1935 costarring Gene Raymond and John Eldridge as Stanwyck’s love interests.
1935 was a relatively quiet year for Barbara Stanwyck. The previous year had seen the enforcement of the strict Production Code, to which several steamy Barbara Stanwyck pictures had contributed (notably Illicit, Forbidden, and the pre-Code masterpiece Baby Face), and in 1935 the public had to get used to a new type of Barbara Stanwyck. She delivered, but the movies she made in 1935 were extremely benign by comparison. The Woman in Red is no exception, and in this film we see a much tighter, more constrained character in Stanwyck’s portrayal of Shelby Barret than we have seen in a Stanwyck movie before.
Shelby Barret is a professional equestrienne who rides for a woman named Mrs. Nicholas, a wealthy society lady. She falls in love with Johnny Wyatt, a polo player for Mrs. Nicholas, but Mrs. Nicholas is also in love with Johnny and she fires Shelby. Meanwhile, another wealthy gentleman by the name of Gene Fairchild is in love with Shelby, and after Shelby and Johnny marry, she elicits Gene’s financial help (without telling Johnny) in the budding horse-handling venture that she and Johnny are undertaking.
She accepts an invitation to party with Gene Fairchild on his yacht, when Gene and his companion Olga show up drunk and Olga falls off the boat to her death. Fairchild is implicated as her murderer, and witnesses testify that he was seen with a mysterious “woman in red” (Shelby was wearing red that evening). Her snobby in-laws, the Wyatts, start talking about the case and Shelby confesses that she is the woman in red. In court, the Wyatt family defends her, and she defends Fairchild, risking her marriage. Ultimately, Johnny comes around and forgives her, and they are reconciled at the end.
It is a rather hurried ending, and the movie feels rushed in general. The plot is difficult to follow because the characters aren’t terribly well developed, but there are a few wonderful angry Barbara Stanwyck scenes which are always a delight to watch.
It is also great to see Barbara Stanwyck acting with horses at this point in her career. Stanwyck had a great love for horses, despite several serious falls during stunt sequences early in her career, and her rapport with them is palpable. In 1936, she and the Zeppo Marx family founded Marwyck, a ranch designed for the training, breeding, and respite of thoroughbred racehorses. It remained active until 1943, and Barbara Stanwyck was an integral part of the upkeep and maintenance of the ranch and the horses. In this film, Stanwyck is so natural with the horses that they almost seem a part of her, and the effect is lovely.
Gene Raymond, who plays Johnny, was an extremely versatile personality in Hollywood. Though he was at various times a composer, director, producer, and an airline pilot, the role for which he is perhaps best known is for being the husband of MGM singing star Jeanette MacDonald. They were married for 28 years until MacDonald’s death in 1965.
If you would like to see The Woman in Red, click here to order it from the Warner Archive.
See you next time!