Teddy Pierce (Gene Wilder) has a good life. He’s got a good job in advertising. He lives in a nice suburban house. He’s got a pretty wife and a couple of good kids. His life might be a little on the dull side, but he’s happy. He doesn’t need anything else.
Then one day while parking in his office’s underground garage, he spies Charlotte (Kelly LeBrock), a gorgeous model passing by. As she walks over a grate, a gust of wind pushes her skirt over her head. Embarrassed, she quickly jumps off and walks away. But then she turns around, walks back over to the grate, and does a little dance while her skirt flitters about. It's just a bit of fun while no one’s watching. Except someone is watching. The camera slowly zooms in on Teddy, his face filled with shock, embarrassment, and lust.
He chases after Charlotte, but first he does a little jig on the grate, letting the wind blow up his trenchcoat. He catches her in the elevator and smiles, but doesn’t know what to say. Later, he sees her across the room at his office waiting for someone. He dials the extension next to her, but it is answered by Ms. Milner (Gilda Radner). As someone is standing in the way of his view, he assumes it is Charlotte who answers and he asks her out.
It is Gilda Radner who gets the film’s best jokes. Through a series of comedic errors, Teddy continues to ask out Milner thinking she is Charlotte. When he continues to break their dates through yet another series of comedic errors, Milner has her (most delightful) revenge.
Teddy does eventually talk to Charlotte and scores a date with her, but is thwarted at every step. Be it falling off a horse, family birthdays, or planes that refuse to land where they are supposed to, Teddy can never quite manage to get Charlotte alone and naked until the end of the film.
Based upon the French film Pardon mon affaire, The Woman in Red is a very light sex farce of a type they no longer make. It is at times a cynical film with every male who has a speaking line either cheating on his wife or desiring to. The women are mostly legs and underwear, rarely given more time other than to look pretty or be the punchline.
Despite every setback, Teddy remains obsessed. In the few scenes we see her, his wife (Judith Ivey) is intelligent, kind, and attractive. She isn’t the cold fish you expect but often pursues sexy time with her husband. When Teddy’s best friend Joey (Joseph Bologna) is caught cheating on his wife, Teddy and his wife discuss the matter. They express disbelief that Joey used his work service to call him back to the “office” as a ruse for his infidelity. Of course, the phone then rings at their house, calling Teddy back to work as he set it up to do. The next day Teddy sends himself a telegram as that’s a more realistic method to get called to work after hours.
Despite its farcical nature, there is a darkness that casts its shadow upon the film. I had not seen the film since I was a pubescent teenager. I had my own obsession with Kelly LeBrock (whose next film was Weird Science in which she is also introduced in her under garments) but my memories of most of the film had grown hazy. I assumed Teddy and Charlotte had a torrid and amusing affair, leaving behind his shrew of a wife. Instead, while still played for laughs, adultery has its consequences. When Joey is caught its devastating. Teddy eventually wises up but not until he’s nearly killed by Charlotte’s own husband.
In the wake of what seems to be daily revelations about powerful men committing sexual abuse on powerless women, The Woman In Red’s lightness can seem a bit distasteful to modern eyes. Yet it also has something to say, almost unintentionally, about unhealthy sexual obsessions and the havoc they wreak. But let's not give it too much credit. This is a light comedy that is immediately forgettable unless you were a teenaged boy in the '80s with a video rental card fast at hand.
Kino-Lorber is using an old transfer here and it looks it. While I didn’t notice any overt problems, neither was I impressed. It looks good, but not great and certainly not as good as it could. Sound likewise is fine, but unimpressive. Dialogue comes in clear as do the (many) songs by Stevie Wonder. Extras are skinny with only a trailer and audio commentary from film historian Jim Hemphill to fill out the disk.
The Woman in Red is not without its charms. Gene Wilder’s performance is winning (he also wrote and directed and I can’t quite offer the same praise for those.). Gilda Radner is underused but when she’s on screen she shines. Its funny in parts, but middling and there isn’t enough wind in the sails (or up the skirt) to really keep it going.
The Woman in Red will be released on November 28