So, this film was another of the incredibly controversial films that helped get the Hays Code enforced in early Hollywood; this one was a direct answer to Red-Headed Woman and features about the same plot. A highly ambitious woman climbs the corporate ladder by using sex. Given how much I hated Red-Headed Woman, you’d guess I didn’t like this one either. Well, you’re wrong. I absolutely loved this movie. Barbara Stanwyck is wonderful in the lead role, for one thing, and the film has some real artistry to the direction.
I should point out that the Forbidden Hollywood DVD set that is the only, as far as I know, home media release of this movie, contains both the original version and the edited version that was initially released to theaters. The edited version isn’t just a hack job; a lot of footage was actually added and a lot of scenes changed substantially by addition of shots or dialogue and the film’s original powerful ending is ruined by a tacked on scene. But anyway, both versions are worth a watch; it’s pretty cool to see the differences and additions in the edited version.
But anyway, this one’s a really great movie. The film has a lot of clever and witty ideas; Stanwyck’s rise through the corporate world is tracked by scene transitions that slowly travel up the side of the skyscraper where she works and a tawdry sexual encounter in a train car is played with light and shadow. The film is incredibly effective and Stanwyck is really good, perfect at playing a sociopathic woman willing to embrace the philosophy of Nietzsche (yes, really, she reads Nietzsche) and take advantage of every one she meets in order to achieve personal success. The supporting cast is much better here than in Red-Headed Woman and this film is just a real whiz-bang, creepy at all the right moments, like an early scene when Stanwyck’s own father pimps her out to a local politician in exchange for favors, and emotional at all the right moments, like the fantastic ending. It’s a super-entertaining, really great movie. Oh and watch for John Wayne in a small role as an office drone smitten by Stanwyck’s charms. Highly recommended. 4 stars.
tl;dr – Stanwyck is perfect, creepy and amoral, in this tale of a wily woman using sex to advance her career; artfully directed film manages to be both disturbing and wildly entertaining. 4 stars.