Red-Headed Woman

Red-Headed Woman

Directed by Jack Conway
Produced by Paul Bern
Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald (uncredited)
Screenplay by Anita Loos
Based on Red-Headed Woman
by Katherine Brush
Starring Jean Harlow
Chester Morris
Lewis Stone
Charles Boyer
Una Merkel
Music by Richard A. Whiting
Raymond B. Egan
Cinematography Harold Rosson
Edited by Blanche Sewell
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • June 25, 1932 (1932-06-25) (United States)
Running time
79 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Red-Headed Woman is a 1932 American Pre-Code romantic comedy film, produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, based on a novel of the same name by Katherine Brush, and with a screenplay by Anita Loos. It was directed by Jack Conway, and stars Jean Harlow as a woman who uses sex to advance her social position. During the course of the film, Harlow breaks up a marriage, has multiple affairs and pre-marital sex, and attempts to kill a man.


Lilian 'Lil' Andrews (Harlow) is a young woman who will do anything to improve herself. She seduces her wealthy boss William 'Bill' Legendre Jr. (Chester Morris) and cleverly breaks up his marriage with his loving wife Irene (Leila Hyams). Irene reconsiders and tries to reconcile with Bill, only to find he has married Lil the previous day.

However, Lil finds herself shunned by high society, including Bill's father, Will Legendre, Sr. (Lewis Stone), because of her lower-class origins and homewrecking. When Charles B. Gaerste (Henry Stephenson), a nationally known coal tycoon and the main customer of the Legendres' company, visits the city, Lil thinks she has found a way to force her way into the highest social circles. She seduces him, then blackmails him into throwing a party at her mansion, knowing that no one would dare offend him by not showing up. It seems like a social coup for Lil, until her hairdresser friend and confidante Sally (Una Merkel) points out that all the guests have left early to attend a surprise party for Irene (who lives across the street).

Humiliated, she decides to move to New York City, even if it means a temporary separation from her husband. Will finds Lil's handkerchief at Gaerste's place and correctly guesses what Lil has done. He shows his evidence to his son, who hires detectives to watch Lil. They find that she is conducting not one, but two affairs, with Charles and his handsome French chauffeur Albert (Charles Boyer). Bill shows Charles damning photographs.

When Lil learns that Charles has found out about her, she returns to Bill, only to find him with Irene. Furious, she shoots him, but he survives and refuses to have her charged with attempted murder. However, he does divorce her, and remarries Irene. Two years later, he sees her again, at a racetrack in Paris, in the company of an aged Frenchman. He discreetly hides Irene's binoculars. In the final scene, Lil and her elderly companion get into a limousine ... driven by Albert.



The film proved difficult from its inception. Producer Irving Thalberg was concerned that the original story and the first draft of a script by F. Scott Fitzgerald were too serious, and offered the job of rewriting it to Anita Loos, instructing her to provide something that was more fun and playful and with a greater emphasis on comedy.

Before Harlow, MGM wanted Clara Bow, who agreed to do the part, but objected to the "future services" option the studio felt it needed.[1]

Prior to its release, he worked with the Will Hays Office to ensure it would receive approval for general release. Under the Production Code, a criminal could not be seen to profit from the crime, or to go unpunished, and sin must be punished. Adding further to the problem was Harlow's overtly sexual portrayal, with several scenes in which she was partially undressed, or making obvious sexual advances.

Although the Hays Office could not ban a film as such, a refusal to issue approval for a particular film could lead exhibitors to refuse to screen it. Thalberg agreed to 17 cuts to enable it to screen in the United States; however upon release, it still received a large number of complaints from affronted cinema patrons. The original theatrical release was banned in the United Kingdom,[2] it was never resubmitted until 1965.[3] The furor surrounding its release generated considerable publicity, and the film was a box-office success.


  1. The Evening Independent, February 18, 1932
  2. Red Headed Woman, BBFC (1933) rejection page Archived March 6, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. Red Headed Woman, BBFC certificate (1965) details
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