Thursday, June 13, 2013

Red-Headed Jean

Some time ago, before we began this blog, our group watched Red-Headed Woman (1932), the wonderful pre-code film starring Jean Harlow as Lil "Red" Andrew.  Since then, I rewatched the film with one of our newer group members, and thought it might be nice to add this fun and rather raunchy movie to our blog.

The film opens in a hairdresser's salon.Our "heroine", Lil, has opted to become a redhead (with probably one of the best lines in movie history!).  Here is the scene, it's delicious:

We quickly discover that Lil has more than just hair-color on her mind.  She has decided that it is time for her to come up in the world, and she aims to do this by seducing her happily-married boss, Bill Legendre, Jr. (Chester Morris).  Tricks such as working her way into his home and revealing his picture on her garter work wonders.  She also succeeds in making sure his wife finds them in a compromising position.  Bill tries to resist her, but, as we see below, he isn't very good at staying away from our siren.

Wife Irene (Leila Hyams) has no patience with Bill's philandering, and they divorce. Lil is all set to move in as the new Mrs. William Legendre, but, as the film progresses, we find out even marriage to a wealthy, attractive man is not enough to keep this social climber happy.

This film provides some outstanding performances.  The always attention-getting Ms. Harlow is stellar here as a woman with one goal and no morals.  Also delightful is Una Merkel  as Lil's best friend and confidant, Sally.  While Sally appears to have a few more morals than Lil, there's not much difference in them, except that Lil is willing to go to any lengths to get what she wants, while Sally hasn't quite got the nerve.

Some interesting casting notes are Henry Stephenson as Charles Gaerste, one of Lil's conquests.  The sight of the usually powerful Stephenson as Lil's plaything is something to behold.  And, as a surprise, we have an early appearance by Charles Boyer as Albert, Gaerste's chauffeur.  This was only his fifth film, and he is certainly a standout. 

Our pre-code delights are a little sado-masochism (take a good look at the clip above!), lots of lingerie, and a bad woman who does not get her just deserts in the end.  According to this article on the TCM website, the film was also one of many (but an important one) in pushing the film industry towards enforcement of The Motion Picture Production Code.  

So, why did Harlow dye her trademark locks red for the film? Well, the story was based on a novel of the same by Katherine Brush, and we can assume the studio wanted to attract readers to the film.  Regardless, Harlow as a red-headed woman is still a powerful sight to behold.


  1. I was on a podcast talking about this movie just a few weeks ago, and it's easy to forget how much fun this movie is despite also being really dark and nasty. One of the most fun Pre-Codes out there. :)

    1. And I would venture to say that it is ALL thanks to Harlow. The film rises and sets on the audience enjoying Lil's antics. She succeeds admirably.


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