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Red-Headed Woman really epitomizes pre-Code Hollywood. Jean Harlow plays a gold-digger who seduces her boss (Chester Morris) and who will stop at nothing to break up his marriage and climb her way to the top. He tries to resist, but she makes it clear that she's available anytime and anywhere ("I'll be just what you want me to be"), and that no one will need to know. After getting her face slapped when he tries to break it off, she snaps "Do it again, I like it, do it again!"; it's a scene that is both disturbing and erotic, as she later very provocatively hides a key down her blouse as he glowers from the door, trapped, and then advances on her as the shot fades to black.
You may wonder why I like this movie despite the physical abuse Harlow suffers, when I hated other movies from this time period which show a woman getting slapped. In this case it's shown as the darker side of both characters. Harlow will submit herself to anything in her desperation. Morris is hopelessly trapped between his conscience and his libido, and as his emotions boil over, gets violent. Their relationship is a sickness, and this is not sugarcoated or made to appear rosy or normal by the film.
Harlow was 21 at the time and is fantastic - sexy, sure, but also great as drunk and great as angry. As the film goes on her character gets increasingly repugnant, as she moves from man to man, and in a surprise, begins an affair with the chauffer as well. She is frustrated and humiliated when found out, but in what was a shocking ending only possible pre-Code, she's shown to be continuing on with some other rich old guy in Paris, unpunished (gasp).
The movie has elements of unguarded honesty - the seduction, the dilemma and overwhelming temptation Morris's character faces, and the freedom to express this ending - but also moments that are just over-the-top male sex fantasy, bordering on misogyny. Harlow was an emerging sex symbol and aside from showing off her body, has lines from the beginning that make it clear she's a 'bad girl' - for example, after asking 'Can you see through this' about a dress and being told yes, saying she'll wear it. It's a pretty simple story and far from profound, but it moves right along in its 79 minutes, was fun to watch, and reminds us of some truths between men and women that are eternal.
This is the prototypical Jean Harlow character, done to the hilt by a very skilled performer who, in the final analysis, probably has more in common with Mae West than with Marilyn Monroe...Amorality has never been so much fun...--Jean Harlow Triumphs In Salacious Tale... One Brazen Babe...!!
The problem with Jean Harlow's character isn't that she's slutty and a possibly a nymphomaniac, but that's she's batshit insane on top of that (and also just a bad person).
one of the best pre-code early talkies harlow is amazing
Jean Harlow in a hilarious, sexy, cunning, catty performance as a man-eater climbing her way through society, one married boss at a time. Also hilarious, Una Merkel as her perpetually shocked and appalled best friend.
"Adult" themes and situations. The bad girl basically gets away with it all, even when she loses. Using men to better herself and who cares who gets hurt.
Interesting, pre-Code exploitation about a gold-digger trying to make it on her wiles. Jean Harlow plays a vivacious, lying, seemingly heartless tramp of a woman whose knack for wrapping powerful men around her finger doesn't meet with a conscience -- the film plays as sympathetic to her character, which today seems odd, but which Depression audiences must have gone for. The sex appeal Harlow was known for is on full display here.
Honey, Harlow is her ultimate worst as a bed hopping, gold digging sister who uses her means and ways to get what she wants out of men. There's even a song, "Red Headed Woman" included. of course, this is the 1930s, but thank God for imaginations.
Check out my tribute and article on Jean Harlow:
An incredible slice of Hollywood history. A flick so scandalous, it is looked upon as one of the chief reasons for the enforcement of the Hays Code two years hence. Harlow plays a woman determined to sleep her way to the top of the social class - whether the men are married or not. Insatiability proves her undoing, however, climaxing in a scene that genuinely elicited a gasp from this veteran viewer. Definitely on the hunt for more in the "Forbidden Hollywood" series! Thank you, Value Village! God bless VHS!!