Things weren’t always so grim for “The Angel Wore Red.” In fact, there was a lot of promise before launching into production. Seasoned screenwriter and director Nunnally Johnson was handling the film, and he had a string of successes under his belt. From “The Grapes of Wrath” to “The Man in the Grey Suit,” Johnson knew his way around a script and could direct the socks out of people. With his inclusion alone, the film should have been a success.
Gardner herself was also reported to have been incredibly enthusiastic about taking on the role of Soledad. A woman in possession of vulnerability and giving some damsel in distress kind of vibes, this marked a slight turn for Gardner away from seductress roles. There was room for exploration in the country girl-turned-sex-worker role, where she could allow herself to step away from the glamourous image that had imprisoned her.
Unfortunately, MGM lacked courage with its projects. Gardner’s co-star Dirk Bogarde recalled in Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies the experience, “We shot for vérité … she wore no make-up, one awful old dress, it was good. After three weeks, MGM saw the first set of rushes, had hysterics, ordered the whole three weeks to be reshot with Ava dressed by Valentina, shoes by Ferragamo, makeup, ta ta ta ta. We all gave in and did as we were told and the film was a disaster.” Financially and spiritually, the film flopped.