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Gable and Harlow are at their very best here--he is an Indochina Rubber Plantation worker, she's his floozy girlfriend, and Astor is the married woman who complicates things by falling in love with him. Corny it may be, but marked with memorable performances that makes it classic Hollywood entertainment. Remade by Gable in 1953 as Mogambo.
This film was not exactly meant to be Shakespeare nor appeal to film
snobs. Nope. This movie is pure unadulterated 1930s pre-code sleaze!
Now, some might see this as a terrible thing, but today it's really a
lot of fun to see just how far some films from major studios pushed the
film making envelope. There is little doubt that just a year or two
later, this film would have not been made and its 1950s remake,
MOGAMBO, is a lot tamer and sophisticated film.
In MOGAMBO, Gable is a hunter and tracker that takes rich slobs on safaris. In RED DUST, he works at a rubber plantation in Southeast Asia. Along the way, he meets up with a cheap but sweet dame (Jean Harlow) but soon forgets about her when he is introduced to sophisticated (but also trampy) Mary Astor. Astor and Gable fall in love (it's really more like "lust") but don't know what to do about Astor's decent husband. The only one who REALLY knows what to do is Harlow, that insists Gable run off with her and leave that marriage intact. Well, what happens next is for you to see. The film is great for fans of Gable or Harlow and is fine entertainment on a purely unsophisticated level.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm a big fan of older movies, esp. the so-called "pre-codes", and so I
was really looking forward to seeing this classic. Was I ever
On the plus side: Jean Harlow. Great, as always! She played her character with lots of wit and intelligence. The only time this movie was enjoyable was when Jean Harlow was on screen. She had lots of great lines and delivered them with her usual, natural humor.
The negatives: Clark Gable and Mary Astor and the whole entire dumb story! I assume we are supposed to like Clark's character (Denny, the man who runs the rubber plantation), but I found nothing about him to like or root for or sympathize with. First of all, Denny is a DOLT for initially turning down Jean Harlow ... I mean, c'mon, she's gorgeous and smart and funny! Then he uses her for sex (which Jean is OK with), but when it comes time for them to part several weeks later, Jean is looking for a little affection, maybe a hug or kiss goodbye, and Clark stuffs some money down her cleavage. Niiiiiiiiice - what a jerk! Then married, goody-two-shoes Mary Astor comes on the scene (accompanying her husband who has been recently hired as a surveyor for the rubber plantation), and Clark goes ga-ga over her. Give me a break! Mary Astor is decent enough looking, but her character was a complete and total simpering wussy! I found it very unbelievable that a rough and tumble free-spirited guy like Denny would prefer the Mary Astor character over the Jean Harlow character.
Trying not to ruin the plot too much, but when Denny turns all "noble" and gives up Mary Astor (who was going to run away with Denny after Denny told her hubby about the two of them - Mary Astor's character didn't even have the guts to tell her own husband she was leaving him, she was such a wimp!) just because Mary's husband told Denny about how much he (hubby) loved his wife and he would be nothing without her .... well, it seems very unlikely that a cad like Denny would all of a sudden turn noble. So, exit Mary Astor and hubby, leaving Denny and Jean Harlow behind on the plantation. Denny "returns" to Harlow (she being the only available woman left to him). Harlow's character deserved much better than gratefully accepting Denny's "settling" for what was in his mind second best.
This movie left me mad and sad for Jean Harlow's character, and very disappointed at this famous classic pre-code that was supposed to be so great. I love me my down-n-dirty pre-codes, but I just didn't "get" this one. Very disappointing. Jean Harlow, though, was her usual fantastic self. 3 stars for her, -7 for the dreck she was surrounded by!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Out in the jungles of south-east Asia there are westerners running rubber plantations. Three days by boat from Saigonhere pronounced "say gone"is the plantation owned by Denny Carson (Clark Gable). A surprisingly pretty blonde just shows up one day, explaining that she'd gotten in trouble along the river and thought it best to lie low a while. She's Vantine Jefferson (Jean Harlow), and she's no better than she should be. Even though Denny is a terrible bully, always pushing his "lazy coolies" around and treating Vantine like dirt, she breaks through to him with amusing chatter about Rocquefort and Gorgonzola cheese. They "hook up," as the current parlance would have it, and when she leaves on the boat after a while Denny hands her money. Idiot. Then on the scene comes the new surveyor, Gary Willis (Gene Raymond), young and green and ill with malariaand along with him comes his wife Barbara (Mary Astor), obviously used to and expecting better things. There's friction between her and Denny, and between her and Vantine, who's returned. And the friction between Babs and Denny turns heated while her husband has been sent away to survey an exceedingly wet part of the jungle. A rotten trick. The love story is supposed to be heated, what with Gable's manly grasping and Astor's melting eyesand she looks pretty good in thin, summer-weight rain-soaked clothes, too. Denny's all set to tell Willis, but hearing the young man talk about his plans, he has a change of heart. He rides six hours back from the wet jungle camp and drinks and kisses Vantine, telling her with disgusted tones he's turned all angelic. Babs sees them rolling about, and Denny explains he was just using her, and she shoots him just as her suspicious husband arrives. Babs stands there shaking and Vantine pipes up with the right lie, that Denny had been after her relentlessly and she finally shot him, and Willis believes the story. All is well, with Denny and Vantine, who suit each other, together. The plot is grade B melodrama, weighed down by the colonialist subtextsomebody has to get the rubber from the jungle to the balloon tires, and the coolies won't do anything if they're not bullied into it, and weighed down by the pervasive racism, and weighed down by the incredibly annoying notion that a tall, handsome, arrogant, misogynistic brute is the ultimate in sex appeal, and weighed down by the utterly predictable love triangle plot. The only thing that saves the movie is the fizzy dialogue between Harlow and Gable, and the jaunty, sexy, teasing flirtatiousness of Harlow, who brightens every scene she's given.
It's 1932. You're not white. Oh boy is right. Red Dust is an excellent movie. It has signature performances by the great stars, Harlowe and Gable. Every aspect of it's greatness has been duly and extensively noted and they are all perfectly true. This movie should not be missed by anyone. However it is not just a movie, it is a historical document. As a historical document it it should also not be missed by anyone. It gives you a real good look at the problems and weaknesses of American culture in the thirties. When you have to take a human being and make him act stupider than a monkey in order to satisfy your own racial conceits you are in a heap of trouble. This was the state of our culture in the thirties. (I say "our" because I live in Canada but I'm an American). We have to look at this stuff so we can appreciate what people of color were going through in those days. Look at Willie Best in High Sierra, it's excruciating. Non-whites were being used for comic relief and nothing else. So what of the big stars? What are they thinking? I don't know. But one thing I think is very important is that they should not be referred to as "idols". They aren't idols, they are human beings. You don't pray to them. If you want to pray, you pray to God, not Clark Gable. As performers, Gable and Harlowe get 10 out of 10. For commitment to the cause of racial justice, they pull zeroes. When you look at this movie, you look at the extraordinary talent that made legends of these people. You also use your head, figure out what the mistakes are, and try real hard not to make the same ones yourself. That's how you look at this movie. It's also how you look at America. There's no need for a big hysterical kerfluffle about it.
"Red Dust" may well define the term "museum piece." Although stars Clark
Gable and Jean Harlow are in top form, the film is marred by its starkly
racist depiction of the Asian characters, particularly the Chinese
Other elements of the film are strong, including the bold, sexy performance from Gable. Harlow's comic gifts are on fine display, especially in the scene where she confronts Mary Astor about the fact that Gable came out of her room with rouge on his mouth. "I suppose he asked to borrow your lipstick," she snaps, making the line both cutting and hilarious.
Fans who know Astor only from her later works in "The Maltese Falcon" and "Meet Me in St. Louis" will be interested to see her here in a very young role. She was only 24 or 25 and although she tends to overact at times, her performance is strong overall.
"Red Dust" is also interesting because it was made just two years before the Production Code came into effect, banning all sorts of suggestive dialogue and situations. Filmmakers were still relatively free at this point, and "Red Dust" offers the perfect balance of sexuality and restraint.
When Gable nobly decides to send Astor back to her husband, he sardonically remarks that he's taken up wings and a halo. Harlow takes the news with delight, and heading up to her room, archly tells him, "You can check the wings and halo at the desk." "I'll be right up," he replies. You have to look long and hard to find films with that kind of snap today.
Unfortunately, all these strengths can't save the film from its fundamental racism. Set on a rubber plantation in Indochina, the story portrays all the Asian characters as stupid and/or lazy. Gable tosses water on a group of resting natives at one point (they apparently shouldn't mind working under the blazing mid-day sun) and later berates them for not wanting to work in an area where a man-eating tiger has been spotted. (Gee, those stupid natives.)
Worst of all is the Chinese houseboy, a perfect example of the Hollyood caricatures of the 30s. Every line he speaks is delivered with hysterical giggling and the prominent display of enormous buck teeth. It's a true shame that so many of his scenes are with Harlow and help illustrate her jealousy towards Astor's character. Otherwise, modern video makers and cable TV execs could just edit him out.
Red Dust contains a wonderful performance from Jean Harlow. The Chemistry
between Harlow and Gable is undeniable. And the plot for the most part is
decent and flows well.
However there are serious flaws which hurt what could have a great film. The racism toward Asians is awful and makes the film difficult to watch. Mary Astor, while a competent actress over acts in the scene with Harlow during the storm.
Though this is a film for any and all Harlow fans to watch.
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