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Red Dust (1932)
Harlow/Gable chemistry is unmatched in cinema
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. 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.
Harlow's greatest performance
More than any other film in the Harlow canon, this one is a testament to her impressive comedic talent, and her knack for rapid-fire delivery and dialogue. Gifts which made her literally unmatched in the 1930's among comedic actresses ("Dinner at Eight" director George Cukor considered her without equal). Like her final film "Saratoga," this is another film which is hard to view with detachment, as it bares many similarities with her real life right down to parasitic parents and an exploitive studio. The way Harlow gestures, her body movements, and pitch control, is something that most actors are not able to acquire until many years of stage and screen performance, and even then, it might still elude them. Harlow did this at age 22 with no stage experience. The script by John Lee Mahin is classic, and is hands down, one of the most devastating satires ever produced on the studio system. Victor Fleming's direction (who also directed Harlow in "Red Dust" and "Reckless"), though not exactly of "Gone with the Wind" caliber, is adequate. The real show, however, entirely belongs to Harlow. Period.