Plot: Lil Andrews (Jean Harlow), perhaps better known as Red, is a woman who knows what she wants and knows what to do in order to make it happen. Red works as a file clerk, but she has her sights set on high society and she sees her boss Bill (Chester Morris) as a chance to climb the ladder. He is married and loves his wife, but Red is convinced that since he is a man, she can seduce him and use his status to improve her own life. Her advances are denied at first, but Bill begins to consider Red’s affections, though she is asked to leave town after she is caught in Bill’s house. She refuses to leave or stop her pursuit of Bill however, which leads to a tense confrontation between the two and after he smacks her around a little, she finally seals the deal. But even if Bill leaves his wife to wed Red, will she ever be accepted by the social circles she admires and will Bill be enough or will she crave even more out of life?
Entertainment Value: This movie is insanely fun, with Jean Harlow in a dynamic, charismatic performance for the ages. She embraces the role of Red, a driven woman who doesn’t let anyone step on her dreams and is an absolute beast about pursuing what she wants. I love that Red is so unapologetic about her ambitions and the choices she makes, she is a force of nature and the script lets her run wild, with results that you can’t help but fall in love with. Red-Headed Woman doesn’t tiptoe around Red’s attitude and actions either, which offended censors and some audiences at the time, given that she is a sexual aggressor, sleeps around, and breaks up a marriage, all of which she does with no regrets and for her own personal advancement. This would be a bold approach even now, let alone in 1932. The movie does cast some moral judgment of course, but it is minor and never feels overly judgmental. Harlow is fantastic here and commands the screen, bringing Red to life in such vivid fashion. The rest of the cast is solid as well, though I wasn’t a fan of Leila Hyams as Irene, the wife of Bill, but perhaps that was intentional to make her unsympathetic. I had an absolute blast with Red-Headed Woman and anyone who appreciates classic cinema, pre-code movies, or epic femme fatales should find a lot to like here.
No nakedness. The movie doesn’t hesitate to showcase Harlow’s sex appeal however, with some risque moments, though tame by modern standards. The scene where she exchanges clothes is the most obvious instance, but the camera often loves to explore her here, without question. No blood. There’s some mild violence at times, the most memorable being a scene where Bill slaps Red around, which she enjoys and pushes him to keep doing. The scene leads straight into an implied sexual encounter, which at the time, had to be quite an eye opener. The dialogue here is fantastic and always fun, with Harlow as the focus and she delivers blistering line after line. Red is allowed to be open about her ambitions and sexual desires, which leads to some interesting exchanges, but she is also a direct and confrontational person, so she presses for what she wants and will say whatever she wants. As I said before, Harlow is a force of nature here and while the supporting cast is good, she steals the show. The frankness of the subject matter and Harlow’s go for broke performance earn some craziness points, as well as just the general manic vibe at times.
Overall Insanity: 4/10
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