Red-Headed Woman

Movie Information

The Hendersonville Film Society will show Red-Headed Woman at 2 p.m. Sunday, November 25 in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West, turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street. Follow to the Lake Point Landing entrance and park in the lot on the left.)
Genre: Drama
Director: Jack Conway
Starring: Jean Harlow, Chester Morris, Lewis Stone, Leila Hyams, Henry Stephenson, Una Merkel
Rated: NR

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.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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