Jean Harlow in Red-Headed Woman. Image courtesy of MGM.
Red-Headed Woman (1932)
A scheming woman (Jean Harlow) works her way up the social ladder by dating the right men.
Red-Headed Woman is one of the pre-Code era’s bright gems. (In case you don’t know, pre-Code is the era in the early ‘30s before the enforcement of the Hollywood Production Code.) Directed by the legendary Jack Conway, Red-Headed Woman was a showcase for the blond bombshell herself, Jean Harlow. Harlow was a chameleon, able to play both daffy dames and serious starlets. Sadly, she wouldn’t make it past the decade, dying in 1937 at the age of 26.
Red-Headed Woman isn’t Harlow’s best work, but it did put her on the map. Like many pre-Codes, her Lillian is a brassy social-climber who uses sex and femininity to get what she wants, and is rewarded for it. The pre-Codes are about gritty realities, with a healthy dose of sex and fun. It’s a far cry from the films made later in the decade where sexual women were punished and pious ladies given everything they want. The script, written by the incomparable Anita Loos, is fresh and feminist. Other pre-Codes worth watching: Red Dust (1932, also starring Harlow and Clark Gable) and Baby Face (1933).
Next: Singin' in the Rain