RED DUST [1932]


Red Dust is one of the earliest Clark Gable/Jean Harlow films. I love the movie everytime I watch it. The chemistry between Gable and Harlow is so great. The kissing scenes are sizzling. They are, in fact, the sex god and goddess.

Dennis Carson (Clark Gable) is a rubber plantation manager torn between two women, Vantine (Jean Harlow), a flamboyant but likeable blonde, and Barbara Willis (Mary Astor), the refined wife of an engineer (Gene Raymond). The jungles of Indochina provide the steamy setting for this often humorous love triangle.

Movie Mirrors:
A rubber plantation owner has an affair with the wife of an employee despite the jealousy of a stranded prostitute.

Dennis Carson (Clark Gable) runs a rubber plantation in Vietnam. He finds Vantine (Jean Harlow) in his house hiding out from the police in Saigon. As Vantine chatters on, Dennis is angry at first; but he warms up to the woman who says she is not used to sleeping at night. Dennis gives her some money as she gets on the boat that brings Gary Willis (Gene Raymond) and his wife Barbara (Mary Astor). Dennis tells Barbara to give Gary quinine for the fever. She is worried about him not having a doctor and slaps Dennis, who smiles and hopes she got it out of her system. Vantine comes back at night after the boat wrecked. Dennis sends her upstairs and tells her to dress and behave decently. Dennis treats Gary for three days until the fever breaks. Both Barbara and Gary believe they owe him much. Dennis finds Vantine in his room but declines a forehead massage. Gary goes out to work, and Dennis argues with Vantine while she is taking a bath. Dennis shows Barbara how they make rubber and explains why he doesn't allow women on the plantation. During a storm he carries her back to the house and is seen kissing her by Vantine.

Dennis sends Gary with Guidon (Donald Crisp) and McQuarg to work in the swamps for three weeks or so. Vantine tells Dennis she wants to leave, but he won't provide the coolies. After three weeks Dennis kisses Barbara and says he is going to tell Gary about them. She asks him if he loves her. Dennis learns the coolies are not working because they are afraid of a tiger. While they wait with rifles, Gary tells Dennis he would fold up without Barbara. Dennis shoots the tiger and heads back at night in the rain. Guidon tells Gary that Dennis is involved with his wife. Dennis gets home and starts drinking. Vantine joins him. Dennis tells Vantine he is noble and kisses her. As they wrestle, Barbara wakes up and tells Vantine to leave. Dennis tells Vantine he will be right up and explains to Barbara he is not "a one-woman man." Barbara shoots Dennis just before Gary comes in. Dennis explains he made a pass at Barbara, and Vantine tells Gary his wife is virtuous. Dennis tells Gary and Barbara to pack and leave. Vantine helps Dennis treat his wound. In the final scene Dennis is in bed, and Vantine reads him the news of Gary and Barbara departing for San Francisco. She reads him fairy stories, and they kiss.

The rainy season is considered a time of passion in the tropics as this story shows, though they work in the rain. Dennis goes from no women to choosing between two, complicating their lives.

RED DUST has become a classic primarily because of the romantic teaming of its two stars, Jean Harlow and Clark Gable, in roles perfectly suited to Harlow's unique brand of earthy humor and Gable's virile charm. Provoking both passion and laughter, they seem to bring out the best in each other.

Usually thought of as a steamy romantic melodrama, this film is also a romantic comedy that comments on sexual morality and the dangers of sexual stereotyping. The comic elements are centered in Jean Harlow' s Vantine, a shrewd, wisecracking blonde whose sardonic wit provides a running commentary on events and who represents the true moral center of the film.

Gable's Dennis Carson manages a rubber plantation in Indochina. For all his surface bravado and toughness he still has Victorian ideas about morality and sex. When Vantine arrives unexpectedly, he decides, from her voluptuous appearance, brazen manner, and flamboyant dress, what kind of woman she must be and what his reactions to her should be. Though he is at first indifferent to her and then irritated by her chatter, he finally admits that she is a "cute little trick" and pulls her onto his lap. The next morning when she gets ready to leave, he forces money on her even though she is clearly hurt by the gesture. When she leaves on the riverboat, Dennis thinks she is gone forever.

The same boat brings the new engineer, Gary Willis (Gene Raymond), and his wife Barbara (Mary Astor). Barbara is the complete opposite of Vantine -- dark, slim, reserved, and impeccably dressed. Just as quickly as he had formed an unfavorable opinion of Vantine, Dennis decides that Barbara is a decent woman who must be protected and sheltered.

Barbara is shocked by the primitive living conditions, the dirt, and the heat; and she soon learns that her husband has malaria. She is horrified to find that there is no doctor nearby and that he must be nursed by Dennis, who seems indifferent to sickness and danger. She cannot help contrasting his strong, dependable masculinity with the weakness of her sick, helpless husband, who is dependent upon her for strength and comfort. When Vantine returns after the boat runs aground, she quickly sizes up the situation before Dennis sends her upstairs to keep her out of Barbara's way.

Dennis' chivalrous, protective attitude toward Barbara is in strong contrast to his indifferent, contemptuous manner towards Vantine. Barbara must be protected from any offensive sights, including the sight of Vantine roaming around "half-naked." Up to now Dennis has been unshaven and disheveled, wearing the same dirty shirt every day. The morning after Barbara's arrival, however, he shaves, puts on a clean shirt, and douses himself with after-shave lotion. Vantine goes along with Dennis' efforts to the point of telling an unbelieving Barbara, in a faked Southern accent, about her fine old Southern family and the brother she has been visiting on the next plantation. The scriptwriters have now established an interesting triangle, in which conventional ideas about "good" and "bad" women are questioned.

Bored and nervous, Barbara becomes more and more attracted to Dennis. As soon as Gary is well, Dennis packs him off to the jungle, leaving the field clear for his pursuit of Barbara. While he is showing her around the plantation, a thunderstorm catches them by surprise. Dennis carries the half-fainting, fearful Barbara back to the house and into her room, where she finally surrenders to him. Barbara is plainly out of her element on the plantation and is surprised at herself and put off balance by her attraction to Dennis. Once she surrenders to him and admits that she loves him, she is immediately fearful and needs his reassurance and support.

Vantine, both furious and wounded by Dennis' preference for Barbara, tells him she wants to leave. "The rain has uncovered a lot of garbage, " she says. Honest and straightforward, Vantine cannot stand dishonesty. She does not think much of Dennis' standards; he believes that "the Duchess," as Vantine calls Barbara, should not see her bathing in the water barrel, but does not mind deceiving Barbara's innocent, trusting husband, who idolizes him.

Dennis next visits Gary to tell him that he is in love with Barbara, but while listening to Gary's plans for his future with her, he realizes how dependent Gary is upon her love and how much they have in common. He knows he cannot carry out his plan to leave with Barbara and returns immediately to the house. After his departure, a drunken foreman makes insinuations about Barbara and Dennis, causing Gary -- upset and suspicious -- to follow Dennis.

Having realized that he cannot have Barbara, Dennis uses Vantine to help disillusion and repulse her. He kisses Vantine after telling her how noble he has been in giving up Barbara. They begin an argument which becomes so noisy that Barbara comes out to investigate, carrying a gun given to her by Gary. Mockingly, Dennis tells her that he is not a one-woman man. Furious, Barbara shoots him in the side as Vantine rushes to help him. When Gary suddenly enters, Dennis explains that he made a pass at Barbara and she shot him; Vantine quickly supports his story. The film ends with one of its most amusing moments, in which Vantine, in excruciating baby-talk, reads a fairy story about rabbits and chipmunks to Dennis as she pretends to ignore his hand creeping up her leg.

Despite the humorless romance of Barbara and Dennis, most of the passion in RED DUST is tinged with laughter. All of the love scenes of Vantine and Dennis are believable and warm because they begin with laughter and end with kisses. Even when she is most jealous of Barbara and hurt by Dennis' contempt, Vantine cannot resist a wisecrack. Seeing that Dennis is in love with Barbara, she vents her rage on the parrot as she furiously scrapes out its cage. "Whaddya been eatin'? Cement?" After she has watched Dennis carry Barbara into her room, she puts her legs up, pulls up her skirt, and furiously buffs her nails. When Barbara comes in, however, afraid and confused, Vantine is too kindhearted to stay angry very long. Again, when Dennis leaves to see Gary, he warns Vantine to be nice to Barbara or to stay out of her way. "I though we might run up a few curtains and make a batch of fudge while we decide what dress to wear to the Country Club dance," Vantine mockingly retorts.

In RED DUST, Clark Gable as the stalwart, virile plantation overseer further solidified his reputation as a romantic leading man, but it is Jean Harlow as Vantine who gives the most memorable performance. Shrewd, brassy, honest, and sensuous, she is the quintessential tart with a heart of gold; it is one of her most notable roles.

Victor Fleming, who had persuaded a reluctant Gable to accept the role of Dennis, skillfully directed the film with primary emphasis on characterization and atmosphere. The result is a film which broke box-office records then, and remains unforgettable today. Although two remakes of RED DUST have been filmed, CONGO MAISIE in 1940 and MOGAMBO in 1953, neither was as successful as the original, even though the 1953 version also starred Clark Gable as the hero.

Release Date: 1932

Production Line:
Victor Fleming for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: Victor Fleming

Cinematographer: Harold Rosson

File Editor: Blanche Sewell

Run Time: 83 minutes

Dennis Carson - Clark Gable
Vantine - Jean Harlow
Barbara Willis - Mary Astor
Gary Willis - Gene Raymond
Guidon - Donald Crisp
McQuarg (Mac) - Tully Marshall
Limey - Forrester Harvey
Hoy - Willie Fung

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