Saturday, April 3, 2010

Red Dust (1932) Victor Fleming

This is a good movie, and much better than its 1953 remake, “Mogambo”. Clark Gable manages a rubber plantation somewhere in Indo-China. And yes, there’s plenty of Asian racism, not the least of which is the silly, laughing Willie Fung (Fung made 100s of movies, usually portraying a servant, a waiter, etc.). Into Gable’s world comes Jean Harlow, an attractive, wisecracking woman of ill-repute, who fleeing something or someone, finds her way to the plantation. Add to this plantation mix Gene Reynolds, who has been hired by Gable and unexpectedly brings along his pretty wife, Mary Astor. Relationships emerge, develop, and intertwine: Gable with Harlow, Harlow with Astor, Astor with Gable, Gable with Reynolds, etc.

Gable (31 years old) and Harlow (21) have great chemistry and both play their roles wonderfully. Astor is fine as the tempted woman (much better than Grace Kelly in the later “Mogambo”), and Reynolds is relegated to having a fever and proclaiming his dependence on his wife. Donald Crisp plays a very minor part, and Tully Marshall is Gable’s assistant on the plantation (“If it was the summer of 1894, I’d play games with you sister (Harlow). But life is much simpler now”).

For a movie produced in the studio, the production is good, ignoring that terrible set with Gable and Reynolds on the tree branch. There is no musical score but the acting and dialogue carry the movie very well. Being made before the Movie Production Code was enforced (that began in 1934), the movie contains scenes and double entendres that two years later would not have been possible. *

In “Mogambo”, Gable reprised his character, this time as a big-game hunter, Ave Gardner played the Harlow role, and Kelly took the Astor part. Although “Mogambo” is filmed on location, “Red Dust” still beats it hands down. Watch for the famous bath in the rain barrel scene with Harlow and Gable. If you’re a fan of these two stars, you’ll enjoy seeing them together in this film.

I wouldn’t touch her with your best pair of rubber gloves. Harlow upon being warned by Gable to stay away from the lady, Mary Astor.

* See for some history and an interesting read.

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