Red Headed Woman (1932) Jack Conway


    “Red Headed Woman” is a prime example of an enjoyable film; it is a lot of fun, with some good performances and snappy lines though in fac,t it never reaches the level of quality that would be considered great. 

    Lil’ Andrews (Jean Harlow) is a young woman from the wrong side of town who wants to get ahead in life and will do anything to accomplish her goal, including seducing her boss Bill Legendre (Chester Morris) and wrecking his happy marriage with his wife Irene (Leila Hyamns) in the process.  Lil’ sees this move, as her entrance into society, however, just because you marry up does not mean you will be accepted into the upper classes inner circle. Snubbed by Bill’s friends, Lil’ decides to seduce coal magnate Charles Gaerste (Henry Stephenson) enticing him to throw a big social gathering at her place that for sure the town’s upper crust could not ignore. Comes the night of the dinner party, the guests conspire to leave early. It is her best friend and confidant Sally (Una Merkel) who informs her that they all left her party early only to go over to Irene’s place across the street.

Embarrassed by this set back, Lil’ goes to New York leaving Bill, behind. When Bill’s father suspects Lil’ is having an affair, he hires detectives to follow her. They discover she is not only having an affair with Charles Gaerste but with his chauffeur Albert, Charles Boyer in a small role.  When Lil’ comes back home she finds Bill is back with Irene. Enraged and ever vengeful she shoots Bill. He survives the shooting and eventually divorces Lil’ going back to Irene. A few years later we find Lil’ in Paris with a rich elderly gentleman at the racetrack. When they leave the track, they get into a limo driven by the Albert the

    Harlow’s character has to be one of the most immoral wanton and vengeful women of the pre-code era, using her physical attributes to seduce men as she tries to climb the social ladder. When she asks how a dress looks on her, she is told, you can see right through it, she replies, “good I’ll wear it.” Low-cut tight fitting clothes and even a quick flash of Harlow breasts can be seen in one quick shot. The men are amazingly gullible or just plain dumb, easily being seduced by this lower class heartless woman. Bill, a happily married man with a beautiful sophisticated wife is effortlessly taken in by Lil’s crude charms, as are all the other men she gets her claws into.    

    As for the acting, Harlow is well cast as the callous Lil’ Andrews, reaching her comedic zenith here and a big improvement over her performance from the previous year in Frank Capra’s Platinum Blonde where Robert Williams reporter, marries, in this case, a rich though still unsophisticated Harlow while the real class act is co-reporter and beauty Loretta Young.  Harlow was truly miscast in Capra’s film.

That said, I never found her persona that attractive and could not understand Bill’s attraction to her when he had a beautiful stylishly sexy wife in Irene. I felt the same way when watching Capra’s Platinum Blonde.  LorettaYoung was the real class prize. In addition to Harlow, Red-Headed Woman is served well by Una Merkel as Lil’s best friend and confidant who sticks by her. As for the men, Chester Morris, Henry Stephenson and Charles Boyer well, they just seem to fall all over Harlow.    red-vhs

    In a 1932 TIME magazine article, it was announced that Clara Bow was originally set to star in Red Headed Woman as her return film from retirement. Instead, Bow signed a contract with 20th Century Fox to star in Call Her Savage. Harlow was announced as her replacement. Anita Loos wrote the script based on a novel by Katherine Brush. Loos script is certainly one of the highlights of the film. Like some of Loos other works, The Girl from Missouri, again with Harlow, and How to Marry a Millionaire, they center on female characters that are looking to marry rich and socially upward. The film was directed by MGM director Jack Conway

     Red-Headed Woman caused, as you could probably image, a stir with the censors even in the pre-code era. According to Mick LaSalle in his book Complicated Woman, an Atlanta censor complained “Sex, sex, sex! The picture just reeks with it until one is positively nauseated!” The film is loaded with sex and even a little sadism (After being slapped by Bill, Lil’ seemingly aroused tells him to “do it again, I like it” as she throws her arms around him).  In her obvious and unrepentant use of her sexuality in bedding men to get what she wanted, Lil’ Andrews parallels another Lil’ from the pre-code era, Lil’ Powers (Barbara Stanwyck) in Baby Face. Lil’ Powers, whose childhood was anything but idyllic (her father pimped her out at the age of 14), is given cause for her choices and thus I her find a more sympathetic character than Harlow’s Lil’ Andrews who other than coming from a poor background is given no excuse other than greed for her actions. That said, these two films would make a great double feature.


6 comments on “Red Headed Woman (1932) Jack Conway

  1. Jeremy says:

    Thanks for your recent comments at Moon in the Gutter. I have added a link to your terrific blog over there. Keep up the fine work.


  2. John Greco says:

    Thanks Jeremy.

    Just found you sight. Excellent stuff. I will add a link to to my blog.


  3. R. D Finch says:

    John, I haven’t seen “Red-Headed Woman,” although I certainly will catch it when I see it playing next, so I can’t comment on it. But I absolutely agree with you about “Platinum Blonde,” which I saw not too long ago. I found the movie to be sub-par for Capra; it didn’t really pick up until the last half, when it got into familiar Capra territory. And the biggest problem I had with it was the obvious miscasting of Harlow. She’s just far too earthy to be believable as a society woman. In comparison, as you pointed out, the lovely Loretta Young just oozed class. And Harlow even looked unattractive, with that terrible hairstyle that emphasized all of her worst facial features; at times she looked positively ugly. She did a good job for Conway in “Libeled Lady,” where her slightly coarse working-class character contrasts nicely with the upper-class refinement of Myrna Loy and allows her to be funny, especially when she and William Powell pretend to be married.


  4. John Greco says:

    Agree, Harlow if she sticks within her limited range as she does in Red-Headed Woman” and Libeled Lady” is effective. I am not too familiar with Loretta Young’s work except for “The Stranger” and “Platinum Blonde” which I have seen in the past year and was impressed by both her talent and her beauty. I do have “Man’s Castle” recorded, just have not watched it yet. I have “Man’s Castle” recorded however, I have not watched it yet.


  5. R. D Finch says:

    John, if you haven’t seen Harlow in “Bombshell,” by all means try to. She’s wonderful in it. It’s easily my favorite performance by her that I’ve seen, and it’s a very funny movie. Richard Hourula had a very entertaining post on it not too long ago in his blog I understand she’s also good in “Red Dust,” but I haven’t seen it yet. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of “A Man’s Castle.” I saw it recently, and it was a real oddity. I won’t say more at this point.

    And welcome to the Large Association of Movie Blogs!


  6. John Greco says:

    R.D., – I will have to check out “Bombshell” when it pops up on TCM. I will get around to checking out “Man’s Castle.”


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