'Red-Headed Woman' and the shock it brought.

February 27, 2014

I like to spend my free time watching Old Hollywood movies, either for the stories, the fashion and the hairdo's or just to see my favorite actors and actresses at work. Every inspiration it gives me, is being used in my modelling photos. I especially like to watch pre-code Hollywood movies lately and Red-headed woman (1932) was one of them. 

Red-headed woman is a talkie from the early thirties - a pre-code film to be specific - and is based on a novel of the same name by Katharine Brush and screenplay by Anita Loos. Jean Harlow, who plays the lead role in this saucy comedy film, was quite reluctant to play the role at first, as she was afraid that the audience could not seperate her from her role as Lilian/Red Andrews; a girl who exploits men and uses sex to get what she wants. Jean was told to play her role with a bit of humor. And darn ... did she nailed that!

Jean Harlow was at the beginning of her career when she made this film and still had to prove her talent for comedy - or any other acting skill for that matter. Jean Harlow was seen as a public joke at the time. Clara Bow was MGM's first choice for this movie, she looked into the script but balked during the negotiations. Also Joan Crawford was one of the prominent actresses considered for the title role. 

Jean Harlow wore a wig in the movie and because the film was shot in black and white, her makeup was made more dramatic to emphasize the nature of her character.

Jean Harlow and screenwriter Anita Loos

The screenplay was rejected by producer Irving Thalberg, who thought it was too serious and thus they brought in screenwriter Anita Loos to do a complete rewrite with a more comical and lighter tone. Anita Loos was famous for her 1925 novel Gentlemen prefer blondes, which was later made into a film with Marilyn Monroe in 1953. The first line Jean speaks in 'Red-headed woman' is: So gentlemen prefer blondes, do they? Yes they do. It is a wink at the audience, who then knew Jean Harlow only with her platinum blonde hair.

The story
Jean Harlow plays Lil Andrews, a golddigger from the wrong side of the tracks and who works at the Legendre company as an office girl. She is unstoppable in her goal to sleep with her boss; she even carries a picture of him in her garter belt and proudly shows him when she gets the chance. William 'Bill' Legendre (played by Chester Morris) does not trust himself alone with Lil and when his wife leaves for town, Lil grabs her chance to be alone with him and seduces him. Just when she gets him where she wants, his wife Irene 'Rene' Legendre (played by Leila Hyams) walks in. Bill is horrified but Lil brags about it to her friend Sally (played by Una Merkel). Bill then tells Lil that she has to leave town, but she refuses. The two meet at a party and Lil locks him up in a phonebooth and seduced him again, and again, and again. Bill eventually gives in to Lil's charms and divorces his wife and marries Lil. Lil tries to break into Bill's society circle, but it appears that his friends are difficult to win over. Lil then begins several affairs with other men and uses sex to get what she wants: getting at the top of the social ladder.

Jean shows raw sex appeal on full display in this magnificent movie and whilst showing her curves abundantly, and wearing nothing underneath her gowns, making sexual innuendo's and such ... it is not so weird that the movie caused a stir when it came out in 1932. The movie was banned in the UK until 1965. Jean plays a very unlikeable character but she plays it with great wit and that makes her entertaining to look at. Even for me it was hard to like Jean's character in this movie. 

Nowadays there are still people who think of 'Red-headed woman' as a shocking film. Back in the day, several letters have been written about the film and one of them said: "Sex, sex, sex, the picture just reeks of it ... If the Hays office does not call a halt to pictures such as this, it's going to crystallize such a revulsion of feeling that the industry is going to feel it in no certain way".

A fragment of nudity
For a split second, Jean is to be seen topless in this film. Although the camera is constantly moving to keep nudity out of frame, you can clearly see Jean Harlow's right breast when Una Merkel removes her top and hands it over to Jean Harlow. Curious? Click to watch the fragment on youtube.

My opinion on the film? I really, really loved it! I highly recommend this movie if you like Jean Harlow and pre-code Hollywood movies! The fashion is just as stunning: the gowns are a design of Adrian!

Did you know?
Although the movie was banned in the UK, King George V had a personal copy of Red-headed woman!

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  1. My favourite film! Loved your write-up on the notorious Red-Headed Woman.

    1. Thank you very much lovely lady!

  2. Thank you for another terrific movie review, honey. I haven't seen this film yet, but certainly hope to one day.

    That garter is fabulous! Can you imagine the pretty penny it would likely fetch amongst classic Hollywood memorabilia collectors today?

    ♥ Jessica

    1. Hahaha yes I can imagine. I would love to have it!

      Let me know what you think of the movie when you have watched it! xxx


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