Preposterously entertaining, wildy overheated pre-code trash, Jack Conway’s Red-Headed Woman (1932) was originally something of a gimmick picture in that MGM dared to dye Jean Harlow’s trademark platinum blonde hair red to suit the film’s title. Since the concept of a red-headed Harlow today is hardly shocking, the delight of the film now lies in its no-holds-barred depiction of her brazenly sexual, cheerfully amoral character.
At bottom, the movie’s nothing more than the tale of a sexually voracious social climber (Harlow) who thinks nothing of getting to the top by lying on her back. In typical MGM fashion, it’s one of those sanctity of marriage offerings, so beloved of right-wing Louis B. Mayer, but it’s also surprisingly frank and even kinky in its sexuality (when Chester Morris slaps Harlow around, she cries out, “Do it again! I like it!”)—and it features an ending that isn’t just pre-code, but a slap in the face to MGM’s usual middle-class morality. The screenplay is no great shakes in and of itself (just how many times can Leila Hyams blame herself for the fact that hubby Chester Morris is constantly falling into the sack with Harlow?), but its overall tone and Harlow’s unbridled (in every sense of the word) wantonness raise the film to the level of a kind of trash masterpiece.