UK Premiere: Red-headed Woman
Still from Red Headed Woman, part of Cinema Rediscovered

UK Premiere: Red-headed Woman

classified 12A PS

Pre-code Hollywood: Rules are Made to be Broken


Please note: This was screened in July 2022

Jack Conway
Jean Harlow, Chester Morris, Una Merkel
79 mins, Partially Subtitled, 1932, USA
Primary language

“When I kiss 'em, they stay kissed for a long time.”

Jean Harlow, the blonde bombshell bar none of 1930s Hollywood, rinsed her hair scarlet to play social-climbing home-wrecker Lil Andrews in this audacious, cynical and often hilarious Pre-Code film from MGM.

Lil is a seemingly hard woman in a tough world, but Loos’s one-liners draw the audience on to her side, as she seduces first her married boss (Chester Morris) and then a visiting coal tycoon (Henry Stephenson). A Screenland’s critic wrote: “Jean plays a mean part so cleverly that you can't help liking this wild red-headed woman.” And Lil’s not alone in her sexual “racketeering”. Una Merkel plays her fretful, wise-cracking best pal to perfection and none other than Charles Boyer plays a key role as a divertingly attractive chauffeur.

The Hays Office demanded 17 cuts to the film to tone down Harlow’s sexual assertiveness and still some audience members were shocked by her antics. In fact, the film was banned outright in the UK. So watch with caution.

Words by season co-curator Pamela Hutchinson. With thanks to Park Circus and Warner Bros.

Pamela Hutchinson is a freelance writer, critic, film historian and curator. She writes for Sight and Sound, Criterion, Indicator, the Guardian and Empire and regularly appears on BBC radio. She is also the editor of Sight and Sound’s Weekly Film Bulletin, an email newsletter. Her publications include the BFI Film Classic on Pandora's Box and 30-Second Cinema (Ivy Press), as well as essays in several edited collections. In 2021 she delivered the Philip French Memorial Lecture at Cinema Rediscovered. Her site is devoted to silent cinema.