Evelyn Nesbit Thaw, the real-life personality so brilliantly (albeit briefly) portrayed by Elizabeth McGovern in Ragtime (1981), is given the full biopic treatment in 20th Century Fox's The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing. Since the real Mrs. Thaw served as technical advisor for the film, it isn't surprising that the controversial Evelyn comes across as being more sinned against that sinning. Joan Collins stars as Evelyn, the gorgeous chorine and original "Gibson Girl" who becomes the romantic bone of contention between ageing architect Stanford White (Ray Milland) and slightly unbalanced young millionaire Harry K. Thaw. Setting up Evelyn in a plush apartment, the lecherous White insists that she "perform" for him on the red velvet swing of the title (allegedly, Evelyn swung naked above the slavering White, though she's fully clothed in the film). Eventually, Thaw marries Evelyn, but cannot prevent White from continuing his romantic overtures. Things come to a head in 1906, on the roof of Madison Square Garden. As Evelyn sings and dances in a stage musical, the insanely jealous Thaw walks up to White, pulls out a pistol, and, in full view of the audience, pumps several bullets into the older man. Though Thaw manages to avoid the gallows by pleading insanity (he was eventually released), Evelyn's reputation is permanently besmirched, leaving her little choice but to capitalize upon her notoriety on the vaudeville stage (actually, Evelyn pursued a moderately successful film career before losing all her money to bad investments in the 1920s). By purifying the character of Evelyn Nesbit and thoroughly vilifying Stanford White, The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing is hardly 100 percent accurate; still, the film is immensely entertaining, thanks to the enthusiastic performances of the three stars.
~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide