1932, Movies

Red-Headed Woman (1932, Jack Conway)

This feels like the direct inspiration for Baby Face – in fact Baby Face feels like a rip off. But Baby Face is the superior film: better plotting, motivations for the characters higher production values and, on a personal note, I prefer Stanwyck to Harlow. The character Baby Face is at least motivated by lust for money and power – and inspired by Nietzsche – whereas it’s not clear that Lil is motivated by anything beyond girlish crushes, until final scenes when this misogynistic film adds money-grubbing to her sluttiness.

This film (and its theme song) comes from a time when people (men, particularly) thought a woman’s hair colour had a causal relationship with her behaviour. A time when there were certain types of women, and these women were the ruin of otherwise decent men. To paraphrase a friend, it’s as if the men have no agency. Baby Face has, at least, a strong motivation to do what she does. And she’s a regular person who gets corrupted. Lil is just a harlot. Moreover, she’s a red-haired one, so I guess it’s just in her DNA. At least Baby Face had the courage to imply sex (including a threesome!) – this film doesn’t even do that. Lil is just out for what she can get, and she’s completely self-unaware.


The one thing I will say for this movie: the ending has the courage of conviction a lot of other films’ endings do not. I don’t think that makes it a good movie, but it’s something.


PS This is supposedly at least partially a comedy.

  • Directed by Jack Conway
  • Produced by Paul Bern
  • Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • 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 date: June 25, 1932
  • Running time: 79 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

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