Lil works for the Legendre Company and causes Bill to divorce Irene and marry her. She has an affair with businessman Gaerste and uses him to force society to pay attention to her. She has another affair with the chauffeur Albert.
Chester Morris ... William 'Bill' / 'Willie' Legendre Jr.
Lewis Stone ... William 'Will' Legendre Sr.
Leila Hyams ... Irene 'Rene' Legendre
Una Merkel ... Sally (Lillian's roommate)
Henry Stephenson ... Charles B. 'Charlie' / 'C.B.' Gaerste
May Robson ... Aunt Jane
Charles Boyer ... Albert (Gaerste's chauffeur)
Harvey Clark ... Uncle Fred
Terrific pre-code film starring Jean Harlow as the "red-headed woman" - a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who uses her sex appeal to seduce rich men in an attempt to improve her social standing (plus get ahold of their dough!). With her eye on her wealthy, handsome, happily married boss (not to mention his photo pinned to her garter) she aggressively pursues him, as he does his very best to try and hold her off and keep his marriage intact. But even when she gets him, she can't stop trying to get someone better (well, you know - richer, that is).
I love this film and I think Jean Harlow gives one of her best performances here as she whines, baby talks, swings her hips, and uses her charms to get the man she wants. Una Merkel is appealing, as usual, as her sidekick/gal pal, constantly feigning shock over the sorted schemes of her red-headed friend. I highly recommend seeing this one.
For those, like myself, who heard about Jean Harlow before viewing any of her pictures, the expectation was to see a glamor girl with somewhat limited performing skills, not unlike Marilyn Monroe at a later time. Not to take anything away from Marilyn, but Jean Harlow proved herself to be a very adept performer, an appealing combination of brazen sexuality and shameless manipulation, always with a comic touch. While sometimes getting her comeuppance (and appearing to enjoy it) at the hands of strong characters played by the likes of Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, in "Red-Headed Woman" the men in her life are pushovers for her wily charms. Chester Morris earnestly tries once, twice, three times to resist her, and apparently comes THAT close to succeeding, but her persistence ultimately renders him helpless. The wealthy and distinguished (and elderly) Henry Stephenson doesn't have a chance: when Jean's pal Una Merkel suggests that she's aiming too high this time, that her plans have no chance of success, Jean replies, "He's a man, isn't he?"
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. If she played virtually the same character in almost every picture, she wasn't the first to do so. Her reputation as an actress deserves to be greatly enhanced.
Watching this today will give you a quite different impression than it gave its original audience.
Today we will see a film with strong sexual notions that we will note because such things all went away with the censors a year later.
We'll see — and you can check it by the comments here — a story about a golddigger who uses sex to exploit one poor guy after another. The sexy bitch here is Jean Harlowe in one of the roles that made her the template for Monroe, who is the one we remember. Today, we might even note that she isn't punished for her sins.
But the audience it was made for was deep in a depression. They would have noted that the rich men in this story got their money through coal. They created nothing; they invented nothing. All they had was a government-backed deed that said they could pull stuff out of the ground with virtual slaves and sell it. They are the victims as seen today where monopolists are celebrated. But in its time, these guys were fair targets. The "society" folks would have all been repulsive, and much of that carries over today.
Even though the first guy seems likable enough, its the violent sex that wins him over every time. Its only when he discovers she has moved on that he is able to break the spell. The fact that the story is different in a different context is incidental to my main point, which is about redheads.
Now Jean and Marilyn were blonds, both artificially. But THIS movie starts with the character's new campaign to catch a rich husband. And to start, she dyes her blond hair red. This interests me because I have a small study of redheaded women in film, how they are used and how we reason about them.
Its a relatively simple thing to trace. My interest began when stumbling upon someone in a Disney character research lab who was tied to some spooky government research I was sponsoring. Look at the recent Disney animated women heroines. All but the Arabian princess are red. Now why is that? I am preparing a web site on this topic alone.
Anyway, if you are interested in this, Clara Bow was our first fully sexual movie woman and every moviegoer would have known she was red. Even though the films were black and white, the movie magazines tinted hair color. Red is easier to make look good with those dyes. And later you will see the same effect with hair color and Technicolor. Judy was dyed red for Oz and St. Louis, for instance.
For some reason. Redheads were tied to overt sexuality and explosive tempers. Whether you think film makes or reflects society, you might find a visit to this movie interesting. And yes, the redhead wins against the monied doofuses.
Incidentally, if you follow how memes jump from movie to movie, watch this, then "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," for a redhead newly in monied society in a small town, who wants a party and is snubbed.
# The screenplay submitted by F. Scott Fitzgerald was rejected by producer Irving Thalberg, who thought it took the story too seriously, so he brought in Anita Loos to do a complete rewrite with a lighter, more comical tone.
# Jean Harlow wore a wig for this film. Because this film was filmed in black and white, to make up for the subtle change in hair color by the wig, her makeup was made more dramatic, to highlight the nature of her character.
# Although the film was actually banned from public showings in Great Britain when it was originally released, King George V had a personal copy.