Red Dust (1932 film)
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|
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.
The film, which is set in French Indochina, 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.
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 an engineer named Gary Willis (Gene Raymond), are involved in a love triangle. Carson abandons an informal relationship with Vantine to pursue Barbara, but he 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 he playfully tries to fondle her.
- Clark Gable as Dennis Carson
- Jean Harlow as Vantine Jefferson
- Mary Astor as Barbara Willis
- Gene Raymond as Gary Willis
- Tully Marshall as "Mac" McQuarg, overseer
- Donald Crisp as Guidon, overseer
- Willie Fung as Hoy, house servant
- Forrester Harvey as Captain Limey
One of the movie's most memorable scenes involves 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 filming of the scene, a topless Harlow stood up in the barrel and proclaimed, "Here's one for the boys in the lab!"
Pre-Code era scenes
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. Overall, the magazine's verdict was "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)." The reviewer was unimpressed with Mary Astor's performance, writing "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, saying, "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 reported "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."
According to MGM records, the film earned $781,000 in the US and Canada, and $442,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $399,000.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
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 playing Harlow's role and Grace Kelly in Astor's part. Clark Gable returned to play the same character he had portrayed twenty-one years earlier. Ford used African tribal music as the film's score.
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- Roberts, Jerry (2003). The Great American Playwrights on the Screen: A Critical Guide to Film, Video, and DVD. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 110. ISBN 1-55783-512-8.
- Vieira, Mark A. (2009). Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince. University of California Press. p. 207. ISBN 0-520-94511-5.
- Three Movie Buffs. Movie review: "Red Dust" Reviewed August 14, 2010. Retrieved September 5, 2018.
- Variety magazine, December 31, 1931, edition
- Variety review
- Variety review
- 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.
- Three Movie Buffs. Movie review: "Red Dust"
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.
- Hicks, Chris (November 10, 2012). "Classic Harlow & Gable flick 'Red Dust' arrives on DVD at long last". deseretnews.com.
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