Red Dust (1932 film)
Red Dust is a 1932 American pre-Code, romantic drama film directed by Victor Fleming, and starring Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, and Mary Astor. It is based on the 1928 play of the same name by Wilson Collison, and was adapted for the screen by John Mahin. Red Dust is the second of six movies Gable and Harlow made together, and was produced during the pre-code era of Hollywood. More than 20 years later, Gable starred in a remake, Mogambo (1953), with Ava Gardner starring in a variation on the Harlow role and Grace Kelly playing a part similar to one portrayed by Mary Astor in Red Dust.
A theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Victor Fleming|
|Produced by||Hunt Stromberg (uncredited)|
|Written by||Donald Ogden Stewart (uncredited)|
|Screenplay by||John Mahin|
|Based on||Red Dust|
by Wilson Collison
|Edited by||Blanche Sewell|
|October 22, 1932|
The film, set in French Indochina, provides a view into the French colonial rubber business. It includes scenes of rubber trees being tapped for sap, the process of coagulating the rubber with acid, native workers being rousted, gales that can blow the roof off a hut and are difficult to walk in, the spartan living quarters, the supply boat that arrives periodically, a rainy spell that lasts weeks, and tigers prowling the jungle. The film's title is derived from the large quantities of dust stirred up by storms.
On a rubber plantation in French Indochina during the monsoon season, the plantation's owner/manager Dennis Carson (Gable), a prostitute named Vantine (Harlow), and Barbara Willis (Astor), the wife of engineer Gary Willis (Gene Raymond) are involved in a love triangle. Carson abandons an informal relationship with Vantine to pursue Barbara, but has a change of heart and returns to Vantine.
Vantine arrives at the plantation first, on the lam from the authorities in Saigon. She shows an easy comfort in the plantation's harsh environment, wisecracks continually, and begins playfully teasing Carson as soon as she meets him. He resists her charm at first, but soon gives in, and they quickly develop a friendly, casual relationship where they tease each other and pretend to be too tough for affection. They call each other "Fred" and "Lily", as though neither can be bothered to remember the other's name.
However, Carson loses interest in Vantine when the Willises arrive. Gary Willis is a young, inexperienced engineer, and his wife Barbara a classy, ladylike beauty. Carson is immediately attracted to Barbara, and, after sending Gary on a lengthy surveying trip, he spends the next week seducing Barbara as Vantine watches jealously. He successfully persuades Barbara to leave Gary, but recants after visiting Gary in the swamp and learning how deeply he loves Barbara. Carson has also seen that Barbara is unsuited for the plantation's primitive conditions, as is Gary, and has a painful memory of his own mother's death on the plantation when he was a boy. He decides to send both of them back to more civilized surroundings.
At the story's climax, Carson turns Barbara's feelings against him by pretending he never loved her, at which point she shoots him. This provides a cover for Vantine and Carson to save Barbara's marriage and reputation by insisting to Gary that Barbara rejected Carson's advances. The film ends after Carson has sent the Willises away, with Vantine reading bedtime stories to him as he recuperates from the gunshot wound, as he playfully tries to fondle her.
One of the movie's most memorable scenes has Harlow taking a bath in a rain barrel. The scene is referenced in another Harlow film, Bombshell, where the set from this movie is replicated. According to legend, during the scene's filming, a topless Harlow stood up in the barrel and proclaimed, "Here's one for the boys in the lab!"
Red Dust (1932), a pre-Code film, was allowed to show Jean Harlow taking a bath, while Clark Gable is pulling her hair. Another provocative scene shows him embracing Harlow with his hands just below her bosom.
Variety gave the film a lukewarm reception, stating: "Familiar plot stuff, but done so expertly it almost overcomes the basic script shortcomings and the familiar hot-love-in-the-isolated-tropics theme (from the play by Wilson Collison)." Unimpressed with Mary Astor's performance, the reviewer wrote: "Astor is ok in the passive virtuous moments, but falls down badly on the clinches, sustained only by Gable." However, they were complimentary towards Gable's performance, and liked Jean Harlow's portrayal of Vantine: "She plays the light lady to the limit, however, not overdoing anything."
Modern reviewers are more favorably disposed to the movie. Ozus' World Movie Reviews reported: "Great performances from the stars make you forget that Gable played a sexist and that the melodrama bordered on being camp." Ken Hanke of the Mountain Xpress wrote: "Red Dust (1932) is something of an anomaly in that it's everything you don't expect from that most conservative of studios Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It is rough, brief, to the point, and gleefully trashy." Three Movie Buffs Movie Reviews wrote: "Clark Gable and Jean Harlow made six movies together, of which Red Dust was their second. With his man's man persona and her sexy, brassy personality, they made a great onscreen couple. Their scenes together are the best parts of an already good movie."
Red Dust was remade by director John Ford in 1953 as Mogambo, this time set in Africa rather than Indochina, and shot on location in color, with Ava Gardner playing Harlow's role and Grace Kelly in Astor's part. Clark Gable returned to play the same character he portrayed twenty-one years earlier. Ford used African tribal music as the film's score.
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- Variety magazine, December 31, 1931, edition
- Variety review
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- Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews. Reviewed November 4, 2004. Retrieved September 5, 2018.
- Hanke, Ken. "Red Dust," Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC). Reviewed February 26, 2013. Retrieved September 5, 2018.
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