Because she had to continuously navigate around her home studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or MGM, Ava Gardner's career was a constant tug-of-war behind the scenes. The studio system possessed enormous influence during the height of Hollywood's glory years, substantially more than the current power disparities among studios. They helped many people who had favourite actors, directors, screenwriters, etc. launch their professions. However, there were constraints that I would compare to puppet strings. You risk getting cut if you push back against those cords.
Gardner received a lot of flak for her alleged lacklustre acting in earlier appearances, which MGM Studios allegedly failed to cultivate in the young woman from the start. There was a focus on Gardner's image, and MGM really leaned into that image once her appearances in "Barefoot Contessa" and "The Killers" pigeonholed her in more provocative parts that highlighted her glamorous beauty.
Unfortunately, Gardner was consistently defeated by this. Looking back, we can see how Gardner's career was nearly destroyed by MGM's influence on her projects especially following the release of "The Angel Wore Red." When MGM stepped in, a promising shoot with a role that Gardner enthusiastically embraced took a turn for the worse. Gardner almost abandoned the idea of working again due to their involvement and all the different adjustments they made during the production. Micromanagement is the work of the devil, and "The Angel Wore Red" by MGM gave the devil his own wings.
The circumstances for "The Angel Wore Red" weren't always so dire. In actuality, before beginning production, there was a lot of promise. Nunnally Johnson, a seasoned screenwriter and director, was in charge of the movie and had a track record of success. From "The Grapes of Wrath" through "The Man in the Grey Suit," Johnson was an expert screenwriter and director who could knock people's socks off. The movie ought to have done well just from his presence.
The actress Gardner herself was said to have been really excited about playing Soledad. This represented a modest departure for Gardner from seductress performances as a woman with fragility and damsel in distress overtones. She might allow herself to let go of the glamorous image that had imprisoned her by allowing herself to explore the role of the country girl-turned-sex worker.
Unfortunately, MGM's projects lacked guts. In Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies, Dirk Bogarde, Gardner's co-star, described the incident, "We used vérité techniques; she had on one hideous old dress and no makeup, and it worked well. After three weeks, MGM received the first batch of rushes, broke out in fits of hysteria, and demanded that the entire three weeks of filming be redone with Ava wearing Valentina clothing, Ferragamo shoes, and makeup. The movie was a failure because we all caved in and followed instructions." Both commercially and spiritually, the movie failed.
After completing the forgettable "The Naked Maja" two years previously, she had been let out of her contract with MGM, and she had hoped that she wouldn't have to go through the same things as a freelancer again. Gardner remarked in her autobiography, Ava: My Story, "The last film I had to work on as part of my terrible MGM contract was "The Naked Maja." I was finally free after it was finished, free to select my own projects and to demand the kinds of fees I was worth. It was high time."
But in "The Angel Wore Red," she wasn't free. MGM was urgently trying to relive the glory of the past before the federal government filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the major studios. Their desperation and urge to micro-manage damaged what could have been a potent movie when combined with the audience's embrace of television and the quickly evolving landscape of cinema entertainment. Gardner, however, realised how much she detested working for MGM as a result.
Following "The Angel Wore Red," Gardner entered a transitional phase. She decided to take a break from acting after her time working on the movie. She did, however, make a comeback and continued to work as a freelancer for the rest of her professional life. She was able to carefully choose her roles as a result, such as her beloved portrayal of Maxine Faulk in "The Night of the Iguana." It's interesting to speculate about what would have happened if she had previously worked as a freelancer.