Sunday, June 02, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Red Dust (1932)

RED DUST is a crackling good pre-Code starring two stars in top form, Clark Gable and Jean Harlow.

Having recently seen Gable in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) and Harlow in THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931), it seemed like the perfect time to revisit RED DUST for the first time in a number of years.

I watched RED DUST via a remastered print from the Warner Archive, and it looked terrific. As Glenn Erickson noted in a review, RED DUST was held back from release for quite a while as it needed extensive work. It was worth the wait.

Gable plays Dennis Carson, the owner of a rubber plantation somewhere outside Saigon. Dennis's tough life in the jungle is disrupted by the arrival of Vantine (Jean Harlow), a woman of questionable reputation who's looking for a place to hide away from the authorities in Saigon, and later by Dennis's new employee, Gary (Gene Raymond), and Gary's prim but lovely wife Barbara (Mary Astor).

Vantine clearly carries a torch for Dennis, but he ends up falling for the married Barbara...

RED DUST has it all -- a good script, lots of humor, and hot, hot romance in the jungle. Gable and Astor in the rainstorm...oh, my! But we all know she belongs with her husband in the house they bought in New York, and Gable and Harlow are meant for one another. Harlow waits not-too-patiently for Gable to come to his senses...and while she waits she enjoys taunting Gable and Astor, including a delightful scene where she takes over a barrel of drinking water as a bathtub.

This film is a great exemplar of why both Gable and Harlow were so popular. Beneath the bombshell looks, Harlow has heart and is also wonderfully funny. (I love the final scene where she reads Gable an animal story from the local newspaper.) Gable had it all, combining sex appeal with tremendous acting talent. Watching these two on screen together is magic in a bottle. I also highly recommend them in HOLD YOUR MAN (1933), another title I need to pick up from the Archive.

I was surprised to realize that Mary Astor was just 26 when this was made. Between her onscreen dignity and my association of her with famous "mother" roles in the '40s, I somehow assumed she was a little older. She has a difficult role but manages to keep Barbara from becoming unlikeable at key moments, both when she's dismayed by her primitive jungle surroundings and when she's unfaithful to her husband. Astor takes Barbara through a wider range of emotions than any other character in the film, and she does it exceedingly well.

RED DUST was directed by Victor Fleming and shot by Harold Rosson. The John Lee Mahin screenplay was based on a short-lived play by Wilson Collison. The film runs 83 minutes.

As a side note, some of the racial attitudes in the film are not, shall we say, enlightened, but sometimes that goes with the territory in films of this era.

Two decades later Gable remade RED DUST as MOGAMBO (1953), which netted Oscar nominations for Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly in the Harlow and Astor roles. MOGAMBO, which was directed by John Ford, is entertaining, but in the end I think RED DUST is the better movie.

Fans of RED DUST will also want to see Harlow in BOMBSHELL (1933), where she plays a movie actress starring in...RED DUST! One of the scenes even features Harlow "reshooting" her RED DUST scene in the rain barrel. Pat O'Brien plays the director.

The movie also had a release on VHS.

RED DUST is periodically shown on Turner Classic Movies, which has a trailer available online.

RED DUST provides a terrific night of entertainment. Recommended.


Blogger KC said...

Harlow looks horrible in that poster. Some studio artist must have had a beef with her! I love this movie so much. One of my favorites. It was fun to read your take on it.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I agree, she looks kind of ill in the poster, LOL. Wonder what they were thinking?! It's a great movie. Glad to know you love it too!

Best wishes,

11:01 PM  

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