Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Victor Fleming|
|Produced by||Hunt Stromberg
John Lee Mahin
|Editing by||Blanche Sewell|
|Release dates||October 22, 1932|
|Running time||83 minutes|
Red Dust is an American 1932 romantic drama film directed by Victor Fleming. The picture is the second of six movies Clark Gable and Jean Harlow made together and was produced during the Pre-Code era of Hollywood. More than twenty years later, Gable would star 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.
The story revolves around a love triangle, set on a rubber plantation most likely located in Cochinchina (southern French Indochina) during the monsoon season, between the plantation's owner/manager Dennis Carson (Gable), a prostitute named Vantine (Harlow), and Barbara Willis (Astor), the wife of an engineer named Gary Willis (Raymond). 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 displays 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 in which they tease each other and pretend to be too tough for affection. One of their favorite games is to 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 is 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 for him, 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 primitive conditions on the plantation, as is Gary, and he 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 himself by pretending that 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 and tries to fondle her.
Along with the love triangle, the film emphasizes the contrast between Carson and Vantine, who are simple but tough, and the Willises, who are sophisticated but weak. Vantine has a sturdy, voluptuous physique, and always keeps her nerve, even when Carson orders her to push an iodine-soaked rod through his bullet wound. Barbara, by contrast, has a thin figure, behaves imperiously at first, and is frightened by a tiger prowling outside the compound. As for the men, Willis foolishly brought his wife into an environment that neither of them was prepared for, with useless tennis rackets in their luggage, and almost dies from malaria because of his own refusal to stay in bed. Carson is more muscular than Willis, runs the plantation, acts as the local medic, saves Willis's life, and kills a tiger.
Finally, the film provides a view into the French colonial rubber business. This includes scenes of rubber trees being tapped for their 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 in the jungle. The film's title is derived from the large quantities of dust that are stirred up by the storms.
- Clark Gable as Dennis Carson
- Jean Harlow as Vantine
- Mary Astor as Barbara Willis
- Gene Raymond as Gary Willis
- Donald Crisp as Guidon
- Tully Marshall as McQuarg
- Forrester Harvey as Limey
- Willie Fung as Hoy
The movie 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 in the Harlow role and Grace Kelly playing Astor's part. Clark Gable returned, twenty-one years later, to play the same character. Ford used African tribal music as the film's score.
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