RED-HEADED WOMAN (1932)

MGM went through great pains while adapting Katharine Brush’s scandalous novel to the screen, but came out with a hit. The story of a secretary sleeping her way into high society was the kind of material that drove censors wild in pre-code Hollywood. In order to get it by them, production head Irving G. Thalberg decided to hire Anita Loos to turn it into a comedy. Then Thalberg had a hard time finding the perfect actress to carry the picture. After testing everybody on the lot (even Marie Dressler put on a red wig and demanded an audition), he took a chance on the young Jean Harlow. She tackled the part with such vibrant energy, it’s hard today to see how anybody could have been offended. At the time, however, audiences actually laughed at her and cheered when boyfriend Chester Morris’ wife (Leila Hyams) told her off. The film’s success made her a star as the studio tailored roles for her in Red Dust (1932) and Dinner at Eight (1933). Also helping put contemporary audiences on her side is her ultimate love interest, a French chauffeur played by Charles Boyer. The role helped his career, but too late for MGM, which had let his option lapse. (d. Jack Conway, 79m, 35mm)

In attendance: CARI BEAUCHAMP