Red-Headed Woman (1932)

jean

“Say, it’s just as easy to hook a rich man as it is to get hooked by a poor one.”

 

What do you get when you pair one of the wittiest screenwriters of her time with Hollywood’s original Platinum Blonde? The sexiest, funniest and most outrageous movie of the Pre-Code period, that’s what. Based on a screenplay by Anita Loos (a prolific writer most famous for her 1925 novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), Red-Headed Woman (1932) stars sexpot Jean Harlow chewing up scenery (and men) as Lil Andrews, the titular red-headed woman, a hedonist who sets out to seduce rich men in order to better her lot in society. Lil Andrews lies, cheats, and even attempts murder but, thanks to Harlow’s gleeful performance, you can’t help but love her. Harlow, tired of being typecast in trophy-moll roles and eager to prove her comedic chops, actively campaigned for the part, even going so far as to don a red wig during public appearances. It’s difficult to imagine any other actress bringing the sheer shameless fun to the role that the vivacious Harlow does. As women unfortunately know all too well, trying to walk the fine line of being “sexy” without being “slutty” is akin to tap dancing on a tightrope. In Red-Headed Woman (1932), Harlow takes the tightrope and turns it into a lasso – she’s in charge. Bucking the censors who decreed that bad girls must always be punished and/or redeemed by a movie’s end, Red-Headed Woman (1932) rewards the deliciously unrepentant Lil with a happy ending (complete with a wealthy patron and his handsome chauffeur) – a move which had the Catholic Legion of Decency foaming at the mouth.

By Heather Babcock, 2019

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