THE RED KIMONA is a melodrama about a young girl who is tricked into a life of prostitution, murders her pimp/lover and finds redemption in true love. It was the result of an extraordinary collaboration between three important women: Adela Rogers St. John, Dorothy Arzner (who wrote the story) and Dorothy Davenport Reid, who co-directed and produced. While St. John and Arzner became better known over the years, it is the unjustly neglected Reid who brought THE RED KIMONA to the screen.
Dorothy Davenport was a member of one of America’s premiere theatrical families and a promising young actress when she married screen idol Wallace Reid in 1913. After her husband’s tragic death from an accidental drug overdose in 1923, she accepted an offer from the Ince company to produce and star in Human Wreckage (1923), about drug addiction and dedicated to her husband. After doing one more film for Ince, Dorothy Reid started her own production company, whose first project was THE RED KIMONA
THE RED KIMONA was based on the life of Gabrielle Darley and opens with Mrs. Reid reading from a newspaper account of Darley’s murder trial. Priscilla Bonner plays Darley, a small town girl who finds escape from her cruel home life in the arms of a handsome stranger. Soon she finds herself working as a prostitute in New Orleans, desperately clinging to the belief that he really loves her. When she discovers him buying an engagement ring for another woman, she shoots him. Her murder trial becomes a cause celebre and Gabrielle finds herself befriended by a rich society woman who professes deep concern for the unfortunate girl. After the acquittal, she goes to live with Mrs. Smith, intending to start a new life, but finds that her benefactor has little use for her once the newspaper men have gone. Unable to find an honest job because of her notorious past, Gabrielle becomes homeless and penniless and nearly returns to prostitution before fate and the love of a good man save her.
THE RED KIMONA is clearly a heartfelt film made from a woman’s point of view. Dorothy Reid directed or produced several films into the early thirties, after which she became a successful writer and production assistant working in Hollywood through the fifties.