Red Dust (1932)
“A flaming, flaming thrill!”
Red Dust (1932)
Director: Victor Fleming
Cast: Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Gene Raymond
Synopsis: The owner of a rubber plantation becomes involved with the new wife of one of his employees.
Helped, no doubt, by the death of Paul Bern, Jean Harlow’s real-life husband, Red Dust was a huge commercial success when first released in 1932. ‘They Were Born To Co-Star!’ screamed the tagline of Harlow and her co-star Clark Gable (Gone with the Wind, A King and Four Queens), and it has to be said that the pair play better together on-screen than Gable and Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon, The Power and the Prize), the third star in this love-triangle story set on a rubber plantation.
Gable plays the plantation manager, a rough, hard-drinking man’s man, who dallies with Harlow (The Public Enemy, Saratoga) before falling for Astor, the wife of a new employee. Wasting no time in despatching Astor’s hapless husband to a remote part of the jungle to work on a lengthy project, the predatory Gable soon works his charms on her.
The striking thing about this movie is just how passive the women are. Harlow certainly has the stronger of the two roles; taking to the jungle life like a fish to water, Harlow barely raises an eyebrow at the roar of a tiger that roams the plantation, while Astor flees in terror from her hut – definitely a fish out of water. However, when Gable dumps Harlow in favour of Astor and starts treating her like dirt, Harlow merely hangs around like a spare part, complaining and irritating Gable in the apparently forlorn hope that he will once again return to her.
Astor’s character also comes out of this poorly: although a newly-wed, arriving in the jungle direct from the bridal suite, she allows Gable to woo her almost immediately while her poor husband (Gene Raymond – Flying Down to Rio), by far the weakest and most naïve character in the movie, recovers from a bout of malaria.
Red Dust is only 83 minutes long, and zips along at a fair old clip. Even today, it stands up well for its age. Made Pre-code it features Harlow in various states of undress that wouldn’t be allowed just one year later, and the story is all the better for it, allowing the viewer to understand some of the sexual tension her presence would fuel. If anything, I’d say this is marginally more enjoyable than Mogambo, the 1953 remake which also starred Gable in the same role.
(Reviewed 8th May 2002)