Conditions are spartan on Dennis Carson\'s Indochina rubber plantation during a dusty dry monsoon. The latest boat upriver brings Carson an unwelcome guest: Vantine, a floozy from Saigon, hoping to evade the police by a stay upcountry. But Carson, initially uninterested, soon succumbs to Vantine\'s ostentatious charms...until the arrival of surveyor Gary Willis, ill with malaria, and his refined but sensuous wife Barbara. Now the rains begin, and passion flows like water...
Clark Gable ... Dennis Carson
Jean Harlow ... Vantine
Gene Raymond ... Gary Willis
Mary Astor ... Barbara Willis
Donald Crisp ... Guidon
Tully Marshall ... McQuarg
Forrester Harvey ... Limey
Willie Fung ... Hoy
Context is an important element in viewing any work of art or commerce and movies are both. \"Red Dust\" at it\'s core is about human weakness and strength, in degree and in full force. Mary Astor, a star since appearing opposite John Barrymore in \"Don Juan\", plays a repressed wife who doesn\'t believe in the strength of her husband (Gene Raymond) nor her own weakness when it comes to resisting the animal magnetism of rubber plantation owner Dennis (Clark Gable). Conversely, Gable doesn\'t realize his weakness in letting himself get involved with the ladylike Astor and underestimates the strength of prostitute Vantine (Jean Harlow) who, when Astor shoots Gable, gives witness to Raymond that his wife is innocent and that Gable deserved shooting. For it\'s time, 1932, \"Red Dust\" is sexually progressive, showing the freely running passions of Gable and the two women, while in retrospect, it\'s depiction of Asians is as poor stereotypes. Willie Fung, who plays Gable\'s houseboy, is also derided as gay in the script by the line delivered by Jean Harlow. Harlow notices Fung giggling at her underwear, to which she replies \"Gee...you even find them in the jungle.\"
\"Red Dust\" has a tremendous \"back story\" as well. John Gilbert was to play the part of Dennis originally as an attempt to bolster his masculine image which had been damaged by the higher-than-anticipated timbre of his voice as recorded by early sound equipment. With the sensation caused by Gable when he returned Norma Shearer\'s slap in the face in \"A Free Soul\" Gable\'s star rose mercurily. No \"hero\" ever countered the indignation of the leading lady before, and certainly not the divas at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Gable was a whole new breed of leading man. Jean Harlow\'s star had been on the ascendant after scoring a huge hit in \"Red Headed Woman\" a scandalous story of a secretary who sleeps her way to the top. The realism of these two performers in those films made them a natural for the raw jungle tale of passion and betrayal. In the middle of the making of the film, Jean Harlow\'s producer-husband, Paul Bern, was found dead. The scandal that followed frightened the studio who thought that Harlow\'s career was over. Scandal had ruined the careers of Fatty Arbuckle and Clara Bow, causing their studio (Paramount) to loose millions on their films. M.G.M. was surprised when Harlow\'s fame and popularity increased. For her part, Harlow returned to the studio and never spoke an unkind word about her late husband. Bern, it turned out, had a common law wife who had emerged from years-long institutionalization and confronted him about his new wife.
Racism is not a key element in the plot of \"Red Dust\". For that, you would have to see \"The Mask of Fu Manchu\" where the Asians are neither lazy nor stupid, but sexual predators, instead. Or you could watch any number of other World War Two American movies with Asians in them. But for accurate Pre-censorship Hollywood adult dialogue and plot, \"Red Dust\" will do nicely, thank you.
Although blessed with good acting & fine production values, this is merely a soap opera set in the jungle. MGM was pushing the moral envelope here, seeing just how far they could go with libidinous behavior - and in those pre-Production Code days that was pretty far. Clark Gable & Jean Harlow exude sexuality, openly lusting for each other & spreading hormones around the screen. Harlow\'s lines (of dialogue) are both witty & suggestive, while Gable talks with his eyes and his hands. They were a perfect cinematic match and this film was such a big success that they would repeat the same basic plot 3 years later in CHINA SEAS, although the Code would cause that film to be a bit more covert.
Mary Astor adds a wrinkle to the plot as another fine-looking female for Gable to mate with, but the audience is never in any doubt that gorgeous Harlow will get him in the end. The rest of the cast (Gene Raymond, Donald Crisp, Tully Marshall & giggling Willie Fung) are good in small roles.
It should be noted that the story line contains racist elements, not unusual in a Hollywood film of that era.
By the way, the bedtime story Harlow is reading Gable at the end of the movie is a parody - and a good one - of the animal stories by Thornton W. Burgess which were very popular at the time.
If you can\'t stand old films that perpetuate and even celebrate racist notions, skip 1932\'s \"Red Dust.\" Putting that historical reality in perspective, \"Red Dust\" is a very good, well-acted film set in a studio\'s fantasy of the Indo-China jungle and its rubber plantations.
Where would film have gone in depicting real romantic relationships with steamy exchanges and barely hidden amorous capers if, two years after \"Red Dust,\" the puritanical code that stifled sexuality hadn\'t been imposed? Who knows but here Clark Gable as Denny, a plantation manager, Jean Harlow as Lily, a woman who, as they used to say, was no better than she ought to be and lovely Mary Astor as Babs Willis act out an adult story.
Babs is married to \"gosh, oh, golly\" idealist and almost straight man Gary Willis, played with affecting naivete by Gene Raymond. Gary works for Denny who is working Babs. Sent away into the deep black-and-white monsoon greenery of the jungle by Denny, Gene is thankful for what he thinks is a fine job opportunity. Also happy are Babs and Denny whose obvious affair is portrayed without any of the sweaty gymnastics that are the staple of today\'s films.
Enter Lily who really loves Denny and knows she\'s the only true tramp for him. Gene is planning (in 1932!) for a house in Westchester County, NY (then a true rural backwater, not a suburban one) complete with kids. Denny doesn\'t know what he wants and Babs loves him but she hasn\'t forgotten she\'s hitched.
Director Victor Fleming lets this story play out within, barely, the bounds of then acceptable storytelling.
\"Red Dust\" shows up on movie channels and is available for sale. It\'s an important piece of Hollywood\'s pre-war history and is still a viewer-grabbing flick.
* Clark Gable also starred in the 1953 remake Mogambo (1953).
* Jean Harlow\'s famous rain-barrel bath is recreated in her film Bombshell (1933).
* Jean Harlow\'s husband of two months, producer Paul Bern, committed suicide during the Labor Day break in the production. Although she was absent for 10 days following his death, scenes were shot around her and the movie was completed on schedule.
* The original play first opened in New York on 2 January 1928.
* During filming of the famous rainbarrel sequence, Jean Harlow reportedly stood up - topless - and called out something along the lines of \"one for the boys in the lab!\" Director Victor Fleming quickly removed the film from the camera to prevent any footage from reaching the black market.
* After the suicide of her husband Paul Bern, which occurred during filming, most of Jean Harlow\'s scenes were re-shot, with higher neck-lines on her dresses.
* Greta Garbo was originally cast as Vantine. But when the script underwent drastic re-writes, the role was recast with Jean Harlow.