You think gold digging is easy work? Talk to the dame in 1931's Red-Headed Woman who exercises all her conniving and energy to move up a ladder of rich guys to the top. This charming film has a thin veneer of morality that can't conceal its real tale of a cheerful sexual mercenary.
This Pre-Code film stars Jean Harlow as Lil who's grown tired of risking her neck sleeping with bootleggers. So she decides to use her sex appeal on the self-righteous son of the rich boss at the office where she works as secretary.
I say it's a Pre-Code film but the Hays Code did technically exist at this time. Studios just weren't forced to take it seriously until 1934 so that moral veneer I mentioned may have been the haphazard effort to follow the word while blatantly violating the spirit of the law.
The trouble is that Bill (Chester Morris), the first guy Lil seduces, is about as substantial as a wet paper bag. He acts like a paragon at all times, even after Lil hoodwinks him into marrying her. He kneels in front of her and proclaims his love. If he's really such a good guy that means he means it. So how can he turn on her so fast when he learns she's been sleeping with the bigger fish, Gaerste (Henry Stephenson)?
Bill's former fiancé Irene (Leila Hyams) tells Bill she knows he's with Lil for the sex and thinking logically about what's going on we have to conclude she's right. There's really nothing to show he's anything but a massive hypocrite or a shallow jerk. At least Lil knows what she wants and Harlow invests the character with terrific charm. These factors conspire to make Lil the most human character in the film otherwise populated by thin moral shadows. How could we fail to root for her?
Twitter Sonnet #868
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