Red Dust (1932)

Director:

Victor Fleming

Cinematography by

Harold Rosson (photographed by)
Arthur Edeson (uncredited)

Red Dust is a 1932 American pre-code romantic drama film directed by Victor Fleming and starring Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, and Mary Astor. The film 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.

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Mary Astor and Clark Gable in Red Dust Steamy sizzling – Harlow outdoes Gable

20 February 2002 | by A M BOYD (USA) – See all my reviews

Red Dust without a doubt is the best movie Harlow and Gable ever made together or separate! Harlow is magnificent and looks like a dream. She puts Gable in his place every time he utters a word. But together, they are magic – such chemistry! The rest of the cast just fades when these two melt together. Two scenes that are memorable – Harlow bathing in the water barrel and cleaning out the parrot’s cage. Wow! She is dynamite. There is no other blonde bombshell that even comes close to this original!

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Gable & Harlow without interference from the Production Code

9/10
Author: (stwhite) from Indiana, USA
30 August 2003

For those that have never seen a pre-Code film, RED DUST is a great film to begin with. It certainly isn’t shy about dealing with adultery, prostitution, or heavy drinking. Although it was made over 70 years ago, it holds up extremely well by today’s standards. This is due to a well written script that dealt with these subjects directly and wasn’t restrained by the Production Code that was enacted 2 years later. Later films either didn’t deal with this type of content or did so in a way that was ridiculous. It is also due to the performances of a rugged and virile Clark Gable and a strong willed and street smart Jean Harlow and a strong supporting cast.

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There is no doubt as to the sexual stamina of their two characters. We find this out early and often. One example is when Gable tucks money down Harlow’s dress and says, “It’s been nice having you.” and spanks her behind. Most modern films would have shown a sex scene while films subject to the code would have treated its audience as children and made us aware in a ridiculous way that would satisfy the censors. The scene where he warns her against misusing the plumbing and attempts to pull her out of the water barrel(yes, she’s naked, but we don’t see the nudity) while the society woman he is trying to seduce watches on is hilarious. Clark Gable and Jean Harlow made one the better on screen couples of that time.

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It is a shame that her career was tragically cut short. I also enjoyed the scene where a frightened Mary Astor slaps him across the face for his indifference to the plight of her sick husband and he responds with a smug and confident grin. The movie also gives one an appreciation of the primitive conditions people lived in on a rubber plantation during that time. RED DUST is directed by Victor Fleming who would later direct THE WIZARD OF OZ and Clark Gable in GONE WITH THE WIND. People have complained that this film is racist, but need to realize that the world was a much different place in 1932 than in 2003. If you can do that, you’ll probably enjoy this film. 9/10

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One of My Favorite Pre-Code Films

10/10
Author: Claire (cng4) from Los Angeles, CA
4 June 2003

To me this is one of the films that defined the Pre-Code Era. Complete with prostitution, adultery, sex as a major plot point, partial nudity (well, much more than was allowed during the Code enforcement), drunkenness, and strong women characters, this film has it all. Plus, it has an extremely engaging storyline, interesting setting, and an explanation of how rubber is made. Aside from the racism present, this film is great. One of the most interesting things about this film, which I have studied a great deal as a part of my senior thesis in undergrad film school, is the freshness of the dialogue. Coming only a few years after the addition of sound to films I was shocked to find how fun and refreshing the dialogue was. Whereas lots of films these days disappoint me in that the dialogue is so overly cliched and stale, Red Dust has lines about favorite cheeses and stories read about bunnies– how fun!

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All and all, this movie is terrific. Clark is as virile as anything and Jean Harlow is full of strength and sass and dimensions– just a great female character. And hell if she isn’t going to fight for her man! Mary Astor’s character is also very well done as we see and believe that Clark is just so tempted by her and she by him. I recommend this movie to anyone and everyone– It’s a 120 times better than its remake, Mogambo, which despite Gable’s presence just totally loses everything that Red Dust had.

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Pre-code period piece melodrama with intelligent writing.

Author: (radkins@pacbell.net) from Toluca Lake, California
6 July 2002

Context is an important element in viewing any work of art or commerce and movies are both. “Red Dust” at it’s core is about human weakness and strength, in degree and in full force. Mary Astor, a star since appearing opposite John Barrymore in “Don Juan”, plays a repressed wife who doesn’t believe in the strength of her husband (Gene Raymond) nor her own weakness when it comes to resisting the animal magnetism of rubber plantation owner Dennis (Clark Gable). Conversely, Gable doesn’t realize his weakness in letting himself get involved with the ladylike Astor and underestimates the strength of prostitute Vantine (Jean Harlow) who, when Astor shoots Gable, gives witness to Raymond that his wife is innocent and that Gable deserved shooting. For it’s time, 1932, “Red Dust” is sexually progressive, showing the freely running passions of Gable and the two women, while in retrospect, it’s depiction of Asians is as poor stereotypes. Willie Fung, who plays Gable’s houseboy, is also derided as gay in the script by the line delivered by Jean Harlow. Harlow notices Fung giggling at her underwear, to which she replies “Gee…you even find them in the jungle.”

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“Red Dust” has a tremendous “back story” as well. John Gilbert was to play the part of Dennis originally as an attempt to bolster his masculine image which had been damaged by the higher-than-anticipated timbre of his voice as recorded by early sound equipment. With the sensation caused by Gable when he returned Norma Shearer’s slap in the face in “A Free Soul” Gable’s star rose mercurily. No “hero” ever countered the indignation of the leading lady before, and certainly not the divas at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Gable was a whole new breed of leading man. Jean Harlow’s star had been on the ascendant after scoring a huge hit in “Red Headed Woman” a scandalous story of a secretary who sleeps her way to the top. The realism of these two performers in those films made them a natural for the raw jungle tale of passion and betrayal. In the middle of the making of the film, Jean Harlow’s producer-husband, Paul Bern, was found dead. The scandal that followed frightened the studio who thought that Harlow’s career was over. Scandal had ruined the careers of Fatty Arbuckle and Clara Bow, causing their studio (Paramount) to loose millions on their films.

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M.G.M. was surprised when Harlow’s fame and popularity increased. For her part, Harlow returned to the studio and never spoke an unkind word about her late husband. Bern, it turned out, had a common law wife who had emerged from years-long institutionalization and confronted him about his new wife.

Racism is not a key element in the plot of “Red Dust”. For that, you would have to see “The Mask of Fu Manchu” where the Asians are neither lazy nor stupid, but sexual predators, instead. Or you could watch any number of other World War Two American movies with Asians in them. But for accurate Pre-censorship Hollywood adult dialogue and plot, “Red Dust” will do nicely, thank you.

© Copyright 2015 Corbis Corporation

1932 — Jean Harlow (l) as Vantine Jefferson and Mary Astor as Barbara Willis in the 1932 film Red Dust, directed by Victor Fleming. — Image by © Underwood & Underwood/Corbis

Harlow/Gable chemistry is unmatched in cinema

10/10
Author: oneway (regman2@aol.com) from Los Angeles, CA
19 December 1999

Red Dust is definitive proof that Gable and Harlow were a unique phenomena in the field of cinema chemistry. It is also stands as a prime example as to why Harlow became a star so quick. She is a loveable sex goddess, and there has simply been no other like her. The way she stares at and chides Gable, and the sheer image of delight which graces her expressive face when she’s in his presence, is something that couldn’t be taught in any acting college. It is pure Harlow. The production value is quite adequate for 1932, with Harlow playing a prostitute on the run who happens upon Gables rubber plantation.

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The arrival of Mary Astor and her husband played well by Gene Raymond, threatens Harlow’s chances with Gable, as he takes a liking to the pleasant demeanor of Astor. The rain-barrel scene in which gable scolds Harlow for being to “care-free” is one of Hollywood’s most memorable film moments. This film was remade as “Mogambo” by John Ford in 1953. The role of “Vantine” (occupied by Harlow) was assumed by Ava Gardner, and the Mary Astor role was assumed by Grace Kelly. Though more than competent in their roles, neither of these actresses could recapture the spark that made Harlow and Gable the “it” couple of the 1930’s.

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