Red-Headed Woman


1h 14m 1932
Red-Headed Woman

Brief Synopsis

An ambitious secretary tries to sleep her way into high society.

Photos & Videos

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jun 25, 1932
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Red-Headed Woman by Katharine Brush (New York, 1931).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 14m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8 reels

Synopsis

In the small company town of Renwood, secretary Lil "Red" Andrews sets her sights on her boss, William Legendre, Jr., the son of Renwood's leading citizen. Regarding his happy marriage to childhood sweetheart Irene as only a minor obstacle, Red, who wears Bill's picture in her garter, doesn't want to leave his house after they have been working late there one night. He tells her to leave because she is "too darn pretty," but weakens when he sees his picture on her garter. Just as they start to become more familiar, Irene comes home and Red quickly leaves. An embarrassed Bill insists that nothing has happened and promises never to see Red again. The next day, Bill's father offers Red a job in Cleveland, hoping to convince her to leave his son alone, but she feigns resentment and demands to see Bill. Though he is still attracted to Red, he sends her away. A short time later, when Red sees Bill and Irene at The Log Cabin ngihtclub, she has him called to the telephone and corners him in the phone booth. After they kiss, he promises to see her the next evening. Later that night, however, Irene and Bill reconcile their differences and Bill decides never to see Red again. The next night, Red gets drunk when Bill fails to meet her, then goes to his house and creates a scene in front of Irene. After Red leaves, Bill angrily goes to her apartment, then slaps her. When she tells him to do it again because she likes it, he beats her, then makes love to her. Soon Irene divorces Bill and he and Red marry. When Irene comes to see him to see if he is happy, she tells him that their relationship won't last because it is only based on sex. Because marriage to Bill still has not helped Red to be accepted socially in Renwood, she wants to move to New York. To further her aim, she seduces visiting New York tycoon Charles B. Gaerste and only reveals her name after they have made love. She then demands that Bill throw a party for Gaerste and invite the town's leading citizens. When the party guests leave early to go to another reception at Irene's, however, Red is furious and begs Bill to take her to New York. Mr. Legendre, who found her handkerchief in Gaerste's hotel room, shows it to Bill, who then lets Red go to New York but threatens to divorce her at the first hint of a scandal. Red goes to Gaerste in New York and soon becomes his mistress, while at the same time taking the handsome French chauffeur Albert as her lover. Soon Bill arrives at Gaerste's apartment and shows him suggestive photographs that he has obtained of Red and Albert and says that he is planning to divorce Red. Gaerste then discharges Albert and tells him to take Red with him. Desperate, Red then wires Bill that she is coming home, but back in Renwood she finds that he has moved to his father's house and has started seeing Irene again. Mr. Legendre offers Red a check for $500 to leave town, but she runs after Bill, who is driving away, and shoots him. Bill recovers from his wounds, however, and refuses to prosecute Red. Two years later, when the remarried Bill and Irene go to the races in Paris with Mr. Legendre, they see Red, who has become the mistress of a millionaire and a well-known figure in Parisian society. As Red drives back home with her rich Frenchman, she is chauffeured by Albert.

Photo Collections

Red-Headed Woman - Behind-the-Scenes Stills
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Red-Headed Woman (1932), starring Jean Harlow and Chester Morris.
Red-Headed Woman - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from MGM's Red-Headed Woman (1932), starring Jean Harlow and Chester Morris. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jun 25, 1932
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Red-Headed Woman by Katharine Brush (New York, 1931).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 14m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8 reels

Articles

Red Headed Woman - Red-Headed Woman


It seems like an odd title for a film starring the Platinum Blonde icon of the 1930s, but Red-Headed Woman didn't start its life earmarked specifically for Jean Harlow. And for that matter, when she was cast in the lead, she was not yet the famous blonde sex symbol she would become shortly after its release.

A popular conception for many years was that red hair on a woman was the sign of a wild spirit and a freewheeling, often aggressive sexuality. Redheads in films were also often loose-moraled femmes fatales with dangerous intentions. Lil Andrews, the central character of this deliciously wicked pre-Code film, is a little bit of all those things. Lil makes a play for her boss, Bill Legendre, who becomes so obsessed with the seductive stenographer's sensuality, he divorces his wife and marries her. But wedded bliss isn't in store for the couple. Lil resents being looked down on by her husband's high-society crowd and carries on affairs with two other men, one of them her French chauffeur. Legendre is almost killed by Lil when he confronts her and her lovers, and soon he returns to his forgiving first wife. The end for Lil? Not quite. Years later on a trip abroad, the Legendres come upon the home wrecker again, successfully playing higher stakes (and dallying with more than one man) in a new elite crowd.

Based on a story by popular "wicked-lady" novelist Katherine Brush, Red-Headed Woman had all the makings of either a lurid morality tale or dreary tragic soap opera. In fact, that's exactly what it might have been if left in the hands of its original adapter, F. Scott Fitzgerald. The premier chronicler of the Jazz Age was, by the early 30s, already heavily into the bad drinking problem that would eventually kill him and no longer a hot commodity in the publishing industry. He had been working as a screenwriter for several years, although not with great success, and his script for this picture did nothing to advance his fortunes or reputation. According to writer Anita Loos in her 1974 autobiography Kiss Hollywood Goodbye, MGM production chief Irving Thalberg brought her onto the project because, he said, "Scott tried to turn the silly book into a tone poem!" and he wanted her to have fun with the sexual element of the story, as she did in her hit 1920s play Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Loos set about crafting a saucy, candid comedy from the material.

The big question, then, was who to cast? To make the whole thing fly, they needed an actress who could be convincingly sexy and scheming while having enough comic appeal to keep the audience from hissing her off the screen as an evil villain. Every actress on the MGM lot had been briefly considered for the role and rejected. Garbo was too languid and continental, Joan Crawford too hard-edged and intelligent. Although a champion of the project, Thalberg wasn't about to assign his wife, Norma Shearer, to such an unsympathetic role, and newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst took the same position when it came to his mistress and protégé, Marion Davies. (The story goes that even big, homely comic actress Marie Dressler donned a red wig and jokingly demanded a test.) Clara Bow, the free-spirited, red-haired flapper of the 20s was briefly considered, but her career was on the wane. That left Thalberg with the young starlet being pushed by his colleague Paul Bern ­ Jean Harlow.

Harlow had attracted some notice in blonde bombshell roles in Howard Hughes' Hell's Angels (1930) and The Public Enemy (1931) but without exciting much enthusiasm, particularly among critics. The acclaimed playwright Robert Sherwood, who was then a film reviewer for Life magazine, called Harlow "an obstreperously alluring young lady...of whom not much is likely to be heard." But what Bern and Harlow knew was that she had a gift for comedy and an ambition to stretch beyond the usual femme fatale roles. Her work in Red-Headed Woman proved them right. Upon its release, it immediately catapulted her into stardom. Vanity Fair magazine chose it film of the year, and it was reported that the royal family of England had their own personal copy for entertaining dinner guests.

The movie, and Harlow, achieved another kind of notoriety as well. Guardians of public morals throughout the country were incensed not only by the film's frank treatment of sexuality but even more by the fact that Lil, an irredeemably bad girl who selfishly wrecks the lives of everyone around her, doesn't get any kind of comeuppance or learn her lesson by the end of the story. Rather, she ends up rich, happy and accepted by high society without ever having to pay for her sins. Because of this, Red-Headed Woman is often cited as one of the motion pictures that brought about more stringent censorship under the Production Code, ushering in an era of enforced "morality" and coy dodges around sex for decades to come.

There's another future star to watch for in this movie. The brief but key role of the chauffeur was assigned to Charles Boyer, then a young French actor on a six-month option to MGM. The studio didn't know how to use him because his accent was too thick to be understood, they said. With only a couple of weeks left on his option, they threw him into the picture and dropped him immediately afterward. But as Loos observed, "his actions were a lot more understandable than words." Audiences agreed wholeheartedly. In previews, the studio found so many pantingly appreciative comments from female viewers, Boyer was immediately called back from Paris and offered a contract at ten times the rate he had been paid on option.

Director: Jack Conway
Producer: Albert Lewin
Screenplay: Anita Loos, F. Scott Fitzgerald (uncredited)
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Editing: Blanche Sewell
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Cast: Jean Harlow (Lil Andrews), Chester Morris (Bill Legendre), Lewis Stone (William Legendre Sr.), Leila Hyams (Irene Legendre), Una Merkel (Sally), May Robson (Aunt Jane), Charles Boyer (Albert).
BW-80m. Closed captioning.

by Rob Nixon

Red Headed Woman - Red-Headed Woman

Red Headed Woman - Red-Headed Woman

It seems like an odd title for a film starring the Platinum Blonde icon of the 1930s, but Red-Headed Woman didn't start its life earmarked specifically for Jean Harlow. And for that matter, when she was cast in the lead, she was not yet the famous blonde sex symbol she would become shortly after its release. A popular conception for many years was that red hair on a woman was the sign of a wild spirit and a freewheeling, often aggressive sexuality. Redheads in films were also often loose-moraled femmes fatales with dangerous intentions. Lil Andrews, the central character of this deliciously wicked pre-Code film, is a little bit of all those things. Lil makes a play for her boss, Bill Legendre, who becomes so obsessed with the seductive stenographer's sensuality, he divorces his wife and marries her. But wedded bliss isn't in store for the couple. Lil resents being looked down on by her husband's high-society crowd and carries on affairs with two other men, one of them her French chauffeur. Legendre is almost killed by Lil when he confronts her and her lovers, and soon he returns to his forgiving first wife. The end for Lil? Not quite. Years later on a trip abroad, the Legendres come upon the home wrecker again, successfully playing higher stakes (and dallying with more than one man) in a new elite crowd. Based on a story by popular "wicked-lady" novelist Katherine Brush, Red-Headed Woman had all the makings of either a lurid morality tale or dreary tragic soap opera. In fact, that's exactly what it might have been if left in the hands of its original adapter, F. Scott Fitzgerald. The premier chronicler of the Jazz Age was, by the early 30s, already heavily into the bad drinking problem that would eventually kill him and no longer a hot commodity in the publishing industry. He had been working as a screenwriter for several years, although not with great success, and his script for this picture did nothing to advance his fortunes or reputation. According to writer Anita Loos in her 1974 autobiography Kiss Hollywood Goodbye, MGM production chief Irving Thalberg brought her onto the project because, he said, "Scott tried to turn the silly book into a tone poem!" and he wanted her to have fun with the sexual element of the story, as she did in her hit 1920s play Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Loos set about crafting a saucy, candid comedy from the material. The big question, then, was who to cast? To make the whole thing fly, they needed an actress who could be convincingly sexy and scheming while having enough comic appeal to keep the audience from hissing her off the screen as an evil villain. Every actress on the MGM lot had been briefly considered for the role and rejected. Garbo was too languid and continental, Joan Crawford too hard-edged and intelligent. Although a champion of the project, Thalberg wasn't about to assign his wife, Norma Shearer, to such an unsympathetic role, and newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst took the same position when it came to his mistress and protégé, Marion Davies. (The story goes that even big, homely comic actress Marie Dressler donned a red wig and jokingly demanded a test.) Clara Bow, the free-spirited, red-haired flapper of the 20s was briefly considered, but her career was on the wane. That left Thalberg with the young starlet being pushed by his colleague Paul Bern ­ Jean Harlow. Harlow had attracted some notice in blonde bombshell roles in Howard Hughes' Hell's Angels (1930) and The Public Enemy (1931) but without exciting much enthusiasm, particularly among critics. The acclaimed playwright Robert Sherwood, who was then a film reviewer for Life magazine, called Harlow "an obstreperously alluring young lady...of whom not much is likely to be heard." But what Bern and Harlow knew was that she had a gift for comedy and an ambition to stretch beyond the usual femme fatale roles. Her work in Red-Headed Woman proved them right. Upon its release, it immediately catapulted her into stardom. Vanity Fair magazine chose it film of the year, and it was reported that the royal family of England had their own personal copy for entertaining dinner guests. The movie, and Harlow, achieved another kind of notoriety as well. Guardians of public morals throughout the country were incensed not only by the film's frank treatment of sexuality but even more by the fact that Lil, an irredeemably bad girl who selfishly wrecks the lives of everyone around her, doesn't get any kind of comeuppance or learn her lesson by the end of the story. Rather, she ends up rich, happy and accepted by high society without ever having to pay for her sins. Because of this, Red-Headed Woman is often cited as one of the motion pictures that brought about more stringent censorship under the Production Code, ushering in an era of enforced "morality" and coy dodges around sex for decades to come. There's another future star to watch for in this movie. The brief but key role of the chauffeur was assigned to Charles Boyer, then a young French actor on a six-month option to MGM. The studio didn't know how to use him because his accent was too thick to be understood, they said. With only a couple of weeks left on his option, they threw him into the picture and dropped him immediately afterward. But as Loos observed, "his actions were a lot more understandable than words." Audiences agreed wholeheartedly. In previews, the studio found so many pantingly appreciative comments from female viewers, Boyer was immediately called back from Paris and offered a contract at ten times the rate he had been paid on option. Director: Jack Conway Producer: Albert Lewin Screenplay: Anita Loos, F. Scott Fitzgerald (uncredited) Cinematography: Harold Rosson Editing: Blanche Sewell Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons Cast: Jean Harlow (Lil Andrews), Chester Morris (Bill Legendre), Lewis Stone (William Legendre Sr.), Leila Hyams (Irene Legendre), Una Merkel (Sally), May Robson (Aunt Jane), Charles Boyer (Albert). BW-80m. Closed captioning. by Rob Nixon

Quotes

Trivia

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.

Notes

Katharine Brush's novel was serialized in Saturday Evening Post (22 August-3 October 1931). According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, in August 1931, M-G-M bought the story as a vehicle for Greta Garbo. Other pre-production Hollywood Reporter news items noted that the script was going to be adapted from Brush's novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and that singing star Lillian Roth was planning to leave the cast of her Broadway revue Vanities to take the lead in the picture. A few days after the Roth item, it was reported that M-G-M wanted Barbara Stanwyck for the lead. In February 1932, Clara Bow was mentioned in a Hollywood Reporter news item as M-G-M's choice for the title role but, according to the item, Bow did not want to be tied down to the long-term contract which M-G-M required for her to do the picture.
       Marcel De Sano was initially set to direct the picture, and Bess Meredyth and C. Gardner Sullivan were working on the scenario and dialogue, according to various news items. De Sano was replaced shortly before the start of production. Meredyth and Sullivan are not credited onscreen or in reviews, and the extent of their participation in the film has not been determined. Although an June 18, 1932 news item noted that the picture was going to be released a record two weeks after the end of production, it actually was released four weeks after shooting ended, a span of time not unusual for films of the period. According to a news item in Motion Picture Herald, some shooting revisions were necessary on the picture which it termed "daring and torrid."
       According to the file on the film contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection in the AMPAS library, the Hays Office approved the film after the elimination of some suggestive dialogue and shots of Harlow. Several state and local censorship boards throughout the United States and Canada required additional eliminations from the film before it was accepted for distribution, as did some foreign countries. After the film was approved, several letters of protest were sent to the Hays Office from various civic and religious leaders, particularly in the South, who felt that the it should not have been approved. Darryl Zanuck, then an executive producer at Warner Bros., also wrote to Col. Jason Joy in the Hays Office to protest that the office had approved Red-Headed Woman but had balked at his proposed film, Son of Russia. HarR had an editorial on the film in July 1932 that criticized its "filth" and said "pictures of this kind, instead of attracting customers to the theatres, will drive them away. Thus will they [motion picture producers] defeat their own purpose." Other trade publications viewed the film much more favorably, however. Hollywood Reporter said in its review of the film, "[Harlow's was] the sexiest performance since Clara Bow discovered 'It'." According to Anita's Loos's autobiographical book A Cast of Thousands, the film's opening line, "So gentlemen prefer blondes, do they? Yes, they do," spoken by Harlow, and the brief montage following the line, were written by her at the insistance of M-G-M production chief Irving Thalberg. According to Loos, because a Glendale, CA preview audience didn't seem to realize that they were watching a comedy until well into the picture, Thalberg wanted her to preface the action with a comic "set-up." Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was the title of a 1925 Broadway comedy hit that was Loos' most famous work. Loos's book and other modern sources credit Harlow's rise to the ranks of a major star to the success of Red-Headed Woman.