Red-Headed Woman

Jack Conway, USA, 1932, 79 min.

It must have been fun to be around in Pre-Code Hollywood. Cinema was fresh and new. Screen-writers and directors were just getting the handle on the art. The money was there. The audience was there. Everything was just coming together.

Top that off with the freedom that came before the Hayes Code. It wasn’t long after this film before the studios were convinced to back off on any content that wasn’t considered “suitable.”

Red-Headed Woman came out in the perfect time for this sort of film: 1932. It stars Jean Harlow as the titular character, ready and willing to do anything to get on to the other side of the tracks. Mostly by using her fiery red-hair (which no man can resist), and her even steamier personality, to nab herself a rich husband.

The screenplay pops with great dialog, and the humor is surprisingly ribald for the 30’s. Director Jack Conway keeps things above the sheets, so to speak, but the film doesn’t really try to hide anything. Especially Harlow’s legs, which deserve a credit all their own.

The film does try to have a message, and includes some dramatic scenes, but the whole things feels light and breezy. It’s a fun little tease, and a great example of how smart the early Hollywood films could be.

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