Red-Headed Woman (1932) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
56 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Red-Headed Woman
Thrift_Store_Junkie0531 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Red-Headed Woman is a 1932 film of the Pre-Code era based on a novel by Katherine Brush. Though originally developed as a project for Greta Garbo, the film stars Jean Harlow as Lil "Red" Andrews, an unapologetic homewrecker who lacks "moral" sensibility. The sexually promiscuous Lil is determined to rise up the business ladder even if it means sleeping her way to the top. Chester Morris stars as Lil's boss 'Bill'/'Willie' Legendre Jr. and is successfully seduced, manipulated with sex and persuaded by the disobedient Lil to divorce his lovely wife, Irene, who's played by the sparkling green-eyed blonde ingenue Leila Hyams. Hyams, an attractive and always likable actress, implies a noticeable beauty but in a warm and endearing way as the innocent wife. Lil soon grows bored of Bill and plunges into an affair with a well-heeled businessman played by Henry Stephenson.

With marital infidelity; lots of implicit sex, violence, sadism and a plentiful of bare female flesh, Red-Headed Woman conforms absolutely to the description of the type of film that simply couldn't be made a few years later. Though far and wide from a great actress, Jean Harlow's overtly sexual portrayal and stubbornly persistent in wrongdoing is amongst one of her finest performances. Also here is Una Merkel in her trademark wisecracking best friend of the heroine and in one of his earliest Hollywood roles, Charles Boyer as the French chauffeur. Red-Headed Woman is a fast-paced, vulgar, humorous and excitingly appealing film that exemplifies the entertainment Hollywood could offer before the angry and offended moralists and the Production Code dropped a net of censorship over the studios.
46 out of 50 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Jean Harlow's Star Shines Bright in this Sexy Romp
movingpicturegal27 April 2006
Terrific pre-code film starring Jean Harlow as the "red-headed woman" - a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who uses her sex appeal to seduce rich men in an attempt to improve her social standing (plus get ahold of their dough!). With her eye on her wealthy, handsome, happily married boss (not to mention his photo pinned to her garter) she aggressively pursues him, as he does his very best to try and hold her off and keep his marriage intact. But even when she gets him, she can't stop trying to get someone better (well, you know - richer, that is).

I love this film and I think Jean Harlow gives one of her best performances here as she whines, baby talks, swings her hips, and uses her charms to get the man she wants. Una Merkel is appealing, as usual, as her sidekick/gal pal, constantly feigning shock over the sorted schemes of her red-headed friend. I highly recommend seeing this one.
39 out of 43 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Never trust a red-head
August199128 October 2004
Harlow was about 21 years old when she made this film but she certainly seems older. In real life, she eloped at 16 and didn't have much of an education. Her accent here is flimsy. But her white skin was perfect for the period's bright lights and slow film. We see and understand well her expressions.

This film shows garters and a surprising morality. The gold-digger gets her gold, conniving and finagling all the way. It seems that a beautiful young woman, who confidently knows what she is, can get anything she wants from a man. Classic Jean Harlow (and I guess Anita Loos). Harlow's act is not ditzy coquette - she knows exactly what she's doing and so do we. It's fun to watch the story unfold.

The men are props but acquit themselves well. Charles Boyer, accent and all, plays the apparently genuine love interest. Watch for the scene where his character is accused of having an affair with a woman already having an affair. Only Boyer could get the right pause before answering matter-of-factly. This was one of his first American films.
37 out of 41 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Jean Harlow's reputation
jaykay-1017 August 2004
For those, like myself, who heard about Jean Harlow before viewing any of her pictures, the expectation was to see a glamor girl with somewhat limited performing skills, not unlike Marilyn Monroe at a later time. Not to take anything away from Marilyn, but Jean Harlow proved herself to be a very adept performer, an appealing combination of brazen sexuality and shameless manipulation, always with a comic touch. While sometimes getting her comeuppance (and appearing to enjoy it) at the hands of strong characters played by the likes of Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, in "Red-Headed Woman" the men in her life are pushovers for her wily charms. Chester Morris earnestly tries once, twice, three times to resist her, and apparently comes THAT close to succeeding, but her persistence ultimately renders him helpless. The wealthy and distinguished (and elderly) Henry Stephenson doesn't have a chance: when Jean's pal Una Merkel suggests that she's aiming too high this time, that her plans have no chance of success, Jean replies, "He's a man, isn't he?"

This is the prototypical Jean Harlow character, done to the hilt by a very skilled performer who, in the final analysis, probably has more in common with Mae West than with Marilyn Monroe. If she played virtually the same character in almost every picture, she wasn't the first to do so. Her reputation as an actress deserves to be greatly enhanced.
56 out of 65 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Jean Harlow Triumphs In Salacious Tale
Ron Oliver8 July 2000
Lillian, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, knows exactly what she wants & how to get it. Right now, she wants her young, handsome, rich & very married boss. Using her considerable - one might almost say ostentatious - physical charms, Lillian lets few obstacles stand in her way for long. After all, she's THE RED-HEADED WOMAN, and she always gets her man...

Jean Harlow was a sensation in this immoral tale, which practically shouts its pre-Production Code status. This film solidified her stardom and helped define her screen persona for generations of viewers to come. She not only had the looks, but she proved herself to be a fine actress, as well.

While the plot revolves around Harlow, the rest of the cast acquit themselves very well: Chester Morris, stern-jawed but very vulnerable as Jean's conquest; Leila Hyams, quietly sympathetic as Morris' wife; canny old Lewis Stone as Morris' father - one of the few men able to see through Harlow's tricks; Henry Stephenson as a millionaire who falls easy prey to Harlow's wiles. The story is helped considerably by the addition of two tart-tongued character actresses, Una Merkel & May Robson, whose lively lines help spark the fun. That's Charles Boyer, not quite yet a star, as Jean's chauffeur/boyfriend at the end of the story.

Movie mavens will recognize Henry Armetta in an uncredited bit as a comic waiter.

Notice that for all her outrageous behavior, Harlow's character remains unpunished & unrepentant - a situation not allowed a couple of years later with the adoption of the Code.
38 out of 43 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Has to be seen to be believed
nnnn4508919131 January 2007
Jean Harlow as a home-wrecker of the worst kind delivers her first great performance in Red-Headed Woman.All the men in her lives are pushovers easily manipulated by the films central character. Made before censorship came into effect in Hollywood, this movie is able to shock viewers even today.The greatest entertainment value of this movie is how naughty all the principal characters are.Sex is out in the open and immorality is the name of the game. Harlow seduces and wins Chester Morris.The sucker has not a chance and which man has when a beautiful woman pursues you.Henry Stephenson is quite good as the moral hypocritical businessman. Nice to see him play such a part. Even a young Charles Boyer has a small important part in his Hollywood bow.The ending is really the biggest surprise.
25 out of 28 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Jean Harlow in a pre-code film
blanche-229 July 2006
Jean Harlow is the star of "Red-Headed Woman," a precode film about a golddigger men can't resist. Irving Thalberg thought the audience didn't catch onto Harlow's character immediately, so the scene at the beginning, when Harlow asks if the dress she tries on is see-through, is his. And yes, it certainly does establish her character: Finding out that the dress can be seen through, her character, Lillian, announces, "I'll wear it." Lillian is a riot - completely obvious, with her tight-fitting, low-cut clothing, cupie-doll voice, and swinging hips - everything about her says "trash," and she makes sure she follows the perception up with action by showing her garters (one of which has a picture of the boss inserted) and not hesitating to remove them and everything else if the situation calls for it. It's in this way that she breaks up the marriage of the boss, the hapless Bill Legendre, Jr. (Chester Morris) and gets into the big money. When that doesn't give her the social standing she wants, she seduces the fabulously successful Charlie Gaerste and then blackmails him into making the socially acceptable crowd attend a party at her home. She continues from there.

This is precode, so don't look for any type of punishment or for the character to take the moral ground. The ground she's on is too lucrative. Harlow is a delight -- pretty, vivacious, sexy, and always likable as the outrageous Lillian. A great loss to the world that she died so young. No matter what type of role she played, there was something very lovable about her, as demonstrated by her tremendous popularity. She has been compared to Monroe for obvious reasons, and both left lasting legacies as sexy, funny, vulnerable stars.

Una Merkel gives Harlow good backup as her roommate, and Charles Boyer appears in a small role. Though it's not my favorite Harlow - I love her in films like Libeled Lady, Wife vs. Secretary, and Suzy, where she sparks more with the other actors - this is very good and a great example of a precode film.
34 out of 41 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
eating up men in her search for riches
christopher-underwood8 February 2007
Wonderful pre-code movie that races along with its amoral story as Jean Harlow chases about eating up men in her search for riches. Barely pausing this wild romp is as uncompromising as it is fast and funny. Harlow is at her best, in out of and almost out of her shimmering costumes and she is ably backed by an excellent cast who all seem to be enjoying themselves. I am indebted to another IMDb reviewer who points out that at the time of original release the States were in depression and the coal bosses and their 'society' entourage, getting rich and doing very little, would have been a welcome target for Harlow's exploits. An interesting and revealing extra dimension that makes me like it even more because I always had a slight feeling of sympathy for the duped guys and now I can happily share the joke, very much at their expense. Brave film making and one cannot but wonder where things may have gone had the code not clamped down.
15 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Amorality has never been so much fun!
catmommie4 December 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Spoiler alert!!

Lil Andrews (Jean Harlow) is a working class gal with the ambition of Napoleon and the body of...well...Jean Harlow. Lil wants to climb the ladder of success, and the first wrong on that ladder is mine-owner Bill Legendre (Chester Morris). Bill isn't much of a catch--he thinks with the little head and is prone to wallowing in not very deeply felt remorse--but he does have a couple of personality traits in his favor. He's very, very rich, and he's the local version of an aristocrat. Before you know it, Bill is divorced and Lil's wearing Adrian and scooting around town in a snappy roadster with matching dog.

Lil figures out pretty darned quickly that the old home town isn't big enough for her, so she hitches a ride on the nearest millionaire and hot-foots it to New York, a town that provides a little scope for her genius. Along the way she picks up a hunky French chauffeur (accessories are so important) and finally loses patience with her wimp of a husband. He returns to his sexless wife, who seems to have nothing better to do than take him back. (She couldn't have taken up quilting?) The unrepentant Lil moves on to bigger and better things. Crime may not pay...but sex does, and Lil is a gal who knows how to make a profit.

Red Headed Woman was Harlow's first foray into comedy, and she's a vulgar, brassy delight. The critics--previously unmoved by the Bombshell's charms--sat up and took notice. So did The People Who Want to Mind Your Business For You. This film, along with several other naughty pre-code offerings, sent them into tailspins of moral outrage.

What bit the Guardians of Public Morality in the butt (and bit hard) was not so much Lil's success as the spectacular failure, moral and personal, of her victims. They're a reprehensible bunch of wienies who richly deserve the treatment Lil gives them. You have to wonder how many of the Guardians saw themselves in Bill Legendre and were terribly afraid that others might make the same connection. It's OK to be a wienie as long as no one else notices you're clothing-free.

Harlow went on to make the pre-code classics Red Dust and Bombshell before the Moralistas finally managed to clip her bawdy wings. She made many films in her regrettably short career, but she's never better than she is in her pre-code days, and the pre-codes don't come any better than Red Headed Woman.

If you've never seen a Harlow film, you're in for a treat. If you think Hollywood didn't know about sex until the 70s, you're in for a surprise. Whether you're a Harlow neophyte or a veteran, Red Headed Woman is an amoral delight. See it.
23 out of 29 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
He's a man, isn't he?
Scarecrow-884 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Lil(Jean Harlow), with gold digging on her mind, seduces her boss, Bill(Chester Morris), tearing his loving marriage to Irene(Leila Hyams)apart. She's a snake in the grass, she is. It's clear that when they get married, it is build on lust with a cracked foundation already, but suffers ultimately when she finds herself competing with Irene..and losing. You know the bad girl has to receive her comeuppance, but Lil just seems to always find a way to land on her feet..or, umm, in that certain bed on her back. She attempts an adulterous relationship with Coal King Charlie Gaerste, but doesn't know that Bill, Sr. has discovered what she's been doing to his son behind Bill Jr.'s back. Charles Boyer has an early role as Albert, Charlie's chauffeur..and Lil's third lover! Surprisingly edgy and naughty pre-code film is very adult. The opening minute ought to tell you all you need to know about how naughty this little sex comedy is. Harlow is an absolute hoot. This might be hated by some because it pokes fun at adultery instead of being an indictment of it's ills.
7 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Frightfully Blatant - the best!
gmzewski27 April 2006
I was captivated watching this, not only is Harlow's acting superb, but its blatant overt sexuality jumps right off the screen. She's a shameless whore and home wrecker, always just on the edge of losing control of her emotions and physical desires, with a fate-be-damned attitude toward it all. The storyline was indeed shocking for its time, in fact, films like this one, right along with Barabara Stanwyck's NIGHT NURSE and BABY FACE show the reasons the Hayes Code came to exist in the first place. This was way over the top, in-your-face immorality, something that Mae West only alluded to in her work in a comic fashion. It's on my list of "best of" features in the pre-Hayes code era. Watch this one if you want to be shocked and astounded! Simply a great film!
9 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Bill Legendre Represents Inner Struggle For All Men
PoeMonroe8 March 2007
Although this provocative and entertaining film is titled "Red-Headed Woman," referring to "Lil," (Harlow), the underlying theme of the story revolves around the character "Bill Legendre, Jr." (Morris)and the frustration and inner battle he suffers with his own conscience. It is established that his love for his wife Irene is sincere, but what he will not admit to himself is that he has developed an infatuation for his secretary (Harlow), who happens to be plotting to snag him away from his wife. Harlow's character is symbolic. Lil personifies that raw desire and lust that is so primitive and impulsive that no distinguished society man wants to admit that he has fallen victim to it, even when it is the case. Most men, and women as well, can identify themselves with "Legendre," whose self-discipline and resistance surrenders against the determined will of "Lil," and we cannot help but to feel sympathetic for him. It is established in the story that he and "Irene" have been sweethearts since they were kids, so it is possible that he had not yet had an "encounter" with another woman. That accumulated (and inevitable) curiosity paired with Lil's persistence practically dooms Bill to yield to the temptation. The story is entertaining because of Jean Harlow's naughty performance, yet it is even more intriguing due to Chester Morris' portrayal a man fallen victim by human desire.
7 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
tedg29 January 2007
Watching this today will give you a quite different impression than it gave its original audience.

Today we will see a film with strong sexual notions that we will note because such things all went away with the censors a year later.

We'll see — and you can check it by the comments here — a story about a golddigger who uses sex to exploit one poor guy after another. The sexy bitch here is Jean Harlowe in one of the roles that made her the template for Monroe, who is the one we remember. Today, we might even note that she isn't punished for her sins.

But the audience it was made for was deep in a depression. They would have noted that the rich men in this story got their money through coal. They created nothing; they invented nothing. All they had was a government-backed deed that said they could pull stuff out of the ground with virtual slaves and sell it. They are the victims as seen today where monopolists are celebrated. But in its time, these guys were fair targets. The "society" folks would have all been repulsive, and much of that carries over today.

Even though the first guy seems likable enough, its the violent sex that wins him over every time. Its only when he discovers she has moved on that he is able to break the spell. The fact that the story is different in a different context is incidental to my main point, which is about redheads.

Now Jean and Marilyn were blonds, both artificially. But THIS movie starts with the character's new campaign to catch a rich husband. And to start, she dyes her blond hair red. This interests me because I have a small study of redheaded women in film, how they are used and how we reason about them.

Its a relatively simple thing to trace. My interest began when stumbling upon someone in a Disney character research lab who was tied to some spooky government research I was sponsoring. Look at the recent Disney animated women heroines. All but the Arabian princess are red. Now why is that? I am preparing a web site on this topic alone.

Anyway, if you are interested in this, Clara Bow was our first fully sexual movie woman and every moviegoer would have known she was red. Even though the films were black and white, the movie magazines tinted hair color. Red is easier to make look good with those dyes. And later you will see the same effect with hair color and Technicolor. Judy was dyed red for Oz and St. Louis, for instance.

For some reason. Redheads were tied to overt sexuality and explosive tempers. Whether you think film makes or reflects society, you might find a visit to this movie interesting. And yes, the redhead wins against the monied doofuses.

Incidentally, if you follow how memes jump from movie to movie, watch this, then "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," for a redhead newly in monied society in a small town, who wants a party and is snubbed.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
21 out of 34 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
RED-HEADED WOMAN (Jack Conway, 1932) ***
Bunuel197614 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This one’s similar to BABY FACE (1933) in that star Jean Harlow – forsaking her traditional platinum blonde look for the titular hair color – uses sex as her ladder into high society. However, it lacks the former’s power: for one thing, because we know nothing of her character’s background (so that she comes off as more of an egotistical “home wrecker”, as her own companion Una Merkel calls her) and also because it basically treats the subject as a comedy (complete with a wink-at-the-audience fade-out). In fact, the original script submitted by F. Scott Fitzgerald(!) was subsequently reworked by Anita Loos – best-known for the play “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (at which she even throws a dig in the film’s very opening line!).

It’s interesting that the 3 titles in Warners’ Pre-Code collection all emanate from different studios: their particular style is immediately recognizable – this being an MGM production, it’s got none of the hard-hitting quality of Warners’ BABY FACE or even the stylized (yet delicate) Universal approach such as is evident in WATERLOO BRIDGE (1931). Rather it’s merely glossy, gratuitously naughty (witness Harlow’s fleeting nudity) and displays little cinematic inventiveness throughout!

While the spunky Harlow is undeniably alluring, her character is so brazen and vulgar that it’s hard to believe a level-headed businessman as Chester Morris could really opt to leave his gorgeous wife (perhaps Leila Hyams’ best role) for her – even if Harlow’s clearly not one to take no for an answer! The film does descend into high-strung melodrama towards the end when Harlow, exposed for what she is, shoots Morris (but only manages to wound him).

The supporting cast features established veterans May Robson (as Morris’ aunt), Lewis Stone (as his father) – both of whom are immediately suspicious of Harlow’s intentions – and Henry Stephenson (it was amusing to see him involved in undignified situations, for once, as a business associate of Stone and Morris captivated by Harlow’s wiles!). Also on hand is Charles Boyer in an early Hollywood role as Stephenson’s chauffeur: he promptly becomes Harlow’s lover, and the hilarious photo of the two kissing literally behind the back of his master/her husband is subsequently given much coverage! There’s even a delightful uncredited bit involving Henry Armetta (a much-used character actor of the day noted for playing flustered Italians) – here, he’s a complicitous waiter whom Morris bribes in order to hush up a chance meeting with Harlow in a phone booth!

By the way, this had been shown on local TV several years ago but I didn’t catch it – since, back then, I was unaware of the film’s ‘risqué’ reputation; I’m glad that I was able to remedy this eventually because, while RED–HEADED WOMAN is undoubtedly the least substantial of the 3 titles in this collection, it’s easily the most enjoyable...
7 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The Love Affairs of a Sexy Red Haired Gold Digger
claudio_carvalho31 October 2014
In Renwood, the promiscuous and hot golf digger Lillian "Lil" (Jean Harlow) lives with her friend Sally (Una Merkel) in a poor neighborhood. She works for the Legendre Company with the only intention of seducing her boss William "Bill" Legendre (Chester Morris). When his beloved wife Irene "Rene" Legendre (Leila Hyams) travels to Cleveland with her Aunt Jane (May Robson), Lil takes his correspondence from his secretary and uses it as a pretext to go to his house. Then she uses sex to seduce Bill, but Rene unexpectedly returns home and finds them together. Lil succeeds in destroying Bill's marriage and he divorces Rene and marries her.

When the powerful businessman of coal Charles B. Gaerste (Henry Stephenson) comes from New York to Renwood in a business trip, Lil has a love affair with him. Then she travels alone to New York and becomes his mistress. But Bill's father William "Will" Legendre (Lewis Stone) is not naive and plots a scheme to help his son.

"Red-Headed Woman" is an American comedy ahead of time, or Pre-Hays Code, the moral censorship guidelines that ruled Hollywood from 1930 to 1968. The plot is about the love affairs of a sexy and vulgar red haired gold digger. Jean Harlow is very funny in the role of an ambitious gold digger. Charles Boyer has a minor but also funny performance in the role of her lover Albert. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "A Mulher Parisiense dos Cabelos de Fogo" ("The Fire Haired Parisian Woman")
9 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Interesting, But A Bad Message
ccthemovieman-116 November 2005
I almost gave up on this "soaper," but stuck with it and found it to be quite interesting. Jean Harlow stars as a woman trying to get ahead in the world by marrying her boss. Then, after becoming a millionaire, she starts fooling around with a young guy. Yeah, the storyline's been used many times since but Harlow was always pretty interesting to watch.

The ending of this film does NOT give a good message (I don't want to spoil it, but this gist of it is that immorality pays) and is another example of why a morals' code was instituted for American films shortly after this. It's just a really bad message, especially for younger girls.

On a personal note, I never understood why men fawned all over Harlow. In the movie, she gets complimented by all the men on how beautiful she is....yet I don't see a lot of beauty. Is it just me? Frankly, Una Merkel, who also is in this film in her typical minor comedienne role, has a much prettier face.

Anyway, the film exhibits how men can make real saps of themselves over a younger woman, if sex is involved. Boy, ain't that the truth!! They (we) can be manipulated so easily. In this regard, this movie reminded me a lot of a better film of the same period: Baby Face, starring Barbara Stanwyck.
20 out of 38 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Wickedly fun, sexy Harlow
alfiefamily9 March 2004
Warning: Spoilers
This was a wonderful surprise.

***Spoiler Alert***

Clearly one of the reasons the Hollywood production code was put into place. Full of sexuality, and double entrendres as well as a little bit of S&M. Something for everyone.

Harlow, in one of her first real comedic roles, is wonderful as Lillian a girl from "the wrong side of the tracks" who has eyes for her boss. The rest of the film is how she uses men to get what she wants, namely a good name and money. Her character is shallow as hell, but, God is she beautiful. She looks better as a redhead than as a platinum blonde.

The supporting cast is first rate.. Lewis Stone, Una Merkel, Leila Hyams and Henry Stephenson all offer top notch support. Chester Morris is surprisingly "natural" in his performance. And watch for Charles Boyer in a small role (one of the funniest scenes involves photographs, one of which shows Boyer, in his chauffer's uniform, lying on the beach).

The ending is awkwardly done, but it kind of makes sense.

8 out of 10
7 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Boss vs. Secretary
lugonian14 August 2016
Shortly before Mae West fizzled the screen with Paramount's 1933 releases of both SHE DONE HIM WRONG and I'M NO ANGEL, Jean Harlow (1911-1937) starred in a somewhat daring product titled RED-HEADED WOMAN (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1932), directed by Jack Conway, with screenplay by Anita Loos, from the book by Katherine Brush. It was Harlow's most breakthrough, pre-code production for its time. While such a title that might have been better suited for comedienne, Lucille Ball, a decade later, the situations on the other hand depicted in this screenplay is another story. Oddly enough, RED-HEADED WOMAN was labeled into Harlow's character, whose earlier movie title, PLATINUM BLONDE (Columbia, 1931), for which she also appeared, has become her lifelong trademark slogan. Though she did retain her blonde hairstyle throughout her short-lived movie career, as a "red-headed woman," Harlow shows she's not just another blonde but a sex-craved girl who's loose morals are simply "red hot."

As an off-screen male vocalist sings the title song during the opening credits (and visually reprized later on), the story introduces Lil Andrews (Jean Harlow) in a beauty parlor getting her hair dyed red and then buying a new sexy transparent dress at a department store to impress her office employer, Bill Legendre (Chester Morris). Working as his secretary for two months, and knowing full well that he's happily married to his wife, Irene (Leila Hyams), who happens to be out of town in Cleveland with Bill's Aunt Jane (May Robson), Lil takes it upon herself to take some letters work to his home as a friendly gesture. In doing that, she catches Bill off guard and comes on to him. At first Bill resists her, but weakens through a series of kisses. His weakness leads to a surprise early arrival by Irene later that night, for which Lil makes a drastic exit from Bill's home hours after her arrival. Hearing the news and hoping to have the marriage saved, Bill's father William Legendre Sr. (Lewis Stone) arranges to have "a girl like that" transferred to the Cleveland office. With Lil refusing to part with Bill, the young adulteress succeeds in having the couple divorce, with Bill not only becoming her husband, but arranging for them to take up residence in a home directly across the street from his ex-wife. Lil, now affectionately called "Red" by Bill, does everything possible breaking into high society and meeting the right kind of people, even to a point of phony tearful outbursts. When Lil finally tires of Bill and her marriage, she soon finds other interests.

Though there are serious overtones found in RED-HEADED WOMAN, especially moments involving the poor wife (Hyams), it's virtually a comedy of loose immorality and double-meaning dialogue told from the secretary's point of view. Una Merkel's Sally offers typical best girlfriend/roommate support whose character virtually gives surprising gasps throughout much of Harlow's proceedings. Harlow and Merkel certainly must have gotten some gasps from critics and theater patrons alike during their negligee stripping sequence by which the camera shifts upward to hide the proceedings.

Also in the cast is Henry Stephenson as Charles B. Gaerste, a conservative friend of the Legendre family, who falls victim of Lil's girlish charms, and Charles Boyer playing Gaerste's chauffeur. Although Boyer, early in his career and slightly unrecognizable, has little to do, he does take part in the important epilogue set two years later in Paris for a very much surprised finish. Harvey Clark (Fred); William Pawley (Al, Lil's bootlegger boyfriend); Henry Armetta (The Waiter) and Edgar Norton (The Butler) round up the rest of the cast.

When I first stumbled upon RED-HEADED WOMAN, it was while attending the New York City revival movie house of Regency Theater located on Broadway and 68th Street around 1980. Having no knowledge of what's now categorized as "pre-code" movies, I was very much surprised by this one, especially the fact it was released at all. Aside from that, I also observed reactions from others in attendance, and at one point during the midway point, noticing an middle-aged man walking out of the theater saying angrily to himself, "No morals. No morals!" Aside from seeing other patrons doing the Una Merkel "gasps" reactions themselves, the biggest roar of laughter took place in a scene where Gaerste (Stephenson) is shown by Bill how he's been duped by Lil while showing him some still photographs taken by a private detective indicating her activities, literally, behind his back! Four years later, Jean Harlow assumed the profession of secretary once again in WIFE VS. SECRETARY (1936), opposite Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, James Stewart and May Robson. As much as that title might have been appropriately used over RED-HEADED WOMAN, the 1936 drama, produced after the production code was enforced, was very much opposite in tone. Unlike the sex-starved, bra-less Lil Andrews, WIFE VS. SECRETARY shows Harlow off in a totally different, most refined style instead, which makes the 1936 movie a very interesting treat to behold on Harlow fans.

Years later, RED-HEADED WOMAN surfaced on cable television, including Showtime (1984), Turner Network Television (1989-1992), before becoming a permanent fixture, thus far, on Turner Classic Movies. Formerly distributed to home video as part of the Forbidden Hollywood series, RED HEADED WOMAN has become available on DVD, with WATERLOO BRIDGE (Universal, 1931) on its flip side. Due to the boss and secretary theme, on a personal level, RED-HEADED WOMAN should have been placed as a companion piece with another pre-code product, BABY FACE (Warner Brothers, 1933), starring Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent, instead. (***)
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Harlow fantastic in this dark pre-Code classic
gbill-748774 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Red-Headed Woman really epitomizes pre-Code Hollywood. Jean Harlow plays a gold-digger who seduces her boss (Chester Morris) and who will stop at nothing to break up his marriage and climb her way to the top. He tries to resist, but she makes it clear that she's available anytime and anywhere ("I'll be just what you want me to be"), and that no one will need to know. After getting her face slapped when he tries to break it off, she snaps "Do it again, I like it, do it again!"; it's a scene that is both disturbing and erotic, as she later very provocatively hides a key down her blouse as he glowers from the door, trapped, and then advances on her as the shot fades to black.

You may wonder why I like this movie despite the physical abuse Harlow suffers, when I hated other movies from this time period which show a woman getting slapped. In this case it's shown as the darker side of both characters. Harlow will submit herself to anything in her desperation. Morris is hopelessly trapped between his conscience and his libido, and as his emotions boil over, gets violent. Their relationship is a sickness, and this is not sugarcoated or made to appear rosy or normal by the film.

Harlow was 21 at the time and is fantastic – sexy, sure, but also great as drunk and great as angry. As the film goes on her character gets increasingly repugnant, as she moves from man to man, and in a surprise, begins an affair with the chauffeur as well. She is frustrated and humiliated when found out, but in what was a shocking ending only possible pre-Code, she's shown to be continuing on with some other rich old guy in Paris, unpunished (gasp).

The movie has elements of unguarded honesty – the seduction, the dilemma and overwhelming temptation Morris's character faces, and the freedom to express this ending – but also moments that are just over-the-top male sex fantasy, bordering on misogyny. Harlow was an emerging sex symbol and aside from showing off her body, has lines from the beginning that make it clear she's a 'bad girl' – for example, after asking 'Can you see through this' about a dress and being told yes, saying she'll wear it. It's a pretty simple story and far from profound, but it moves right along in its 79 minutes, was fun to watch, and reminds us of some truths between men and women that are eternal.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
gold diggers of the era before the Hays Code
lee_eisenberg10 December 2012
Jean Harlow oozes sensuality as a woman from the wrong side of the tracks who tries to get her boss to hook up with her...and proceeds to have still MORE affairs. "Red-Headed Woman" got made before the infamous Hays Code's establishment, meaning that it contains what had to be some of the most erotic things commercially filmed by that point (which means that it's only PG in our era). Sure enough, once the Hays Code came about, the movie got pulled from circulation and wasn't shown again for years. A real pity, since it's got some really funny stuff. In the 21st century, when we can find all sorts of porn and crude humor on the Internet, it's hard to believe that there was ever a set of rules dictating what movies were allowed to show, but there was just that. As always, the moralizers prevent people from having any fun.

Anyway, it's a pretty funny movie.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Diamond Lil with red tresses
didi-511 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This pre-Code movie presents Jean Harlow with dyed tresses in another man-snatching role to go alongside her others. Lil Andrews is amoral and set on taking rich men for what she can get, starting with her boss (played by chisel jawed Chester Morris), and moving on upward.

Given this was 1932, and only two years later things were about to change, the Production Code would be implemented, and films would become a lot more sanitised, 'Red Headed Woman' is rather daring and leaves little to the imagination. There's a lot of spicy innuendo and some direct references to sex which would be unthinkable a few years later.

Una Merkel shines as Lil's pal Sally, who follows her everywhere and views everything. And Charles Boyer is memorable in a little supporting role.

This film can be found as part of the DVD set 'Forbidden Hollywood, part 1'.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Harlow in all her pre-code glory
sdave75962 December 2010
"Red Headed Woman" released in 1932 by MGM, is all about Jean Harlow. Harlow came to MGM under the guide of Irving Thalberg, the boy wonder of the studio. Louis B. Mayer, a conservative man, initially wanted nothing to do with Harlow. He felt her image was that of a bimbo, but Thalberg held considerable power at the studio, and he made Harlow a star. In this film, one of several she made that year, Harlow plays a tough gal from the wrong side of the tracks. Her goal is to be rich, and she will use her "assets" to do so. Harlow sets out to seduce her boss (Chester Morris) who is very serious-minded and very married. Next thing you know, he's divorcing his wife and is now with Harlow. Not satisfied with this conquest, Harlow sets her sights on New York and shamelessly seduces a very rich (and yes, married) businessman (Henry Stephenson). It all gets quite complicated, with more men and eventually her husband getting wise to her games. But Harlow is a wonder here, with her tough talk and great accent, she rules the film. Matters such as marital infidelity and sex are not disguised, as this was two years before the code of 1930 would clamp down on the movie industry. In fact, this film was one of several which outraged the moralists and eventually lead to the 1934 censorship rules. Anyway, see the film for Harlow. Some good supporting performances, including Una Merkel as Harlow's wise-cracking friend, and Lewis Stone, playing Chester Morris' father.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Harlow Highlights Pre-Code Melodrama with Comedy Elements
EUyeshima24 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
In full hellcat mode even without her platinum blonde tresses, Jean Harlow has her breakthrough role starring in 1932's more comically oriented "Red-Headed Woman", an obvious MGM product given its high production values. She plays Lil Andrews, an unapologetic gold-digger who seduces her boss Bill Legendre and steals him away from his staid fiancée Irene. Bored and tried of being looked down upon once they are married, she moves on to an older, wealthier man to ensnare but not before she tries to shoot her husband. But Lil's amoral behavior finds her being further rejected, especially when she is caught with a French chauffeur, played by a very young Charles Boyer with his trademark continental flair already established.

For all the pain Lil causes to the other characters in the story, she ends up happily unrepentant in Paris, a fact which really defines this as a pre-code movie. At only 21, Harlow is already confident and brassy, even though Anita Loos' script has her teetering precariously between comedy and melodrama. Chester Morris is rather stiff as Bill, but Una Merkel shines as Lil's best friend Sally. Take note of the forthright way the camera lingers on Lil and Sally as they change in and out of their negligees.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Wow! Real pre-code sexuality
sideways825 July 2003
I can't believe Harlow's character in this movie. She was totally a real cynical man using gorgeous piece of trash. And she was only 21 when she made it. You've got to see it. This movie should have been number one on TCM's Complicated Women chart. (Thought I recognized Boyer in a bit part.)
4 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
One Brazen Babe
zardoz-136 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Director Jack Conway's "Red-Headed Woman" is an audacious, Pre-Code, Hollywood soaper about a treacherous dame who has a backup plan for every contingency. Leading lady Jean Harlow plays the eponymous brazen babe with relish. She sleeps her way to the top in this 79-minute melodrama. As the protagonist, Harlow's Lillian Andrews is an active character and she lets nothing get in her way. Indeed, this doll can improvise with flair when the chips are down. She goes through a succession of wealthy men so that she can cling to a Gallic chauffeur. William Legendre, Jr., (Chester Morris) is her first victim and he is defenseless against her charms. If this Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer release had been released after July 1934, the surprise ending would never have survived. Female heroines like Lillian Andrews are not a dime a dozen. Charles Boyer had made less than five movies when he appeared as the mustached chauffeur and he plays it to the hilt.
3 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed