RED DUST is a romantic drama starring a young Clark Gable, all of thirty-one, Jean Harlow, and Mary Astor. Gable’s face doesn’t have that craggy, weather-beaten look of his later years. The screenplay is by John Lee Mahin based on a play by Wilson Collison and directed by Victor Fleming. It was the second of six films Gable and Harlow made in the pre=code era of Hollywood.
Gable plays Dennis Carson, the owner/manager of a rubber plantation in southern French Indochina. Jean Harlow is Vantine, a prostitute who shows up on a boat for a stay until the heat dies down from some action blows over in Saigon(they all pronounce it Say-gon). The boat only makes the run once a month. During that month, the pair have a good time. it doesn’t mean as much to Dennis, as he hands Vantine a wad of cash, though she’s noticeably not happy by it. Mary Astor plays Barbara Willis, the wife of Dennis’s new engineer, Gary Willis(Gene Raymond). The pair arrive on the next boat, the same one Vantine is taking back down the river.
Gary arrives struck down with the “fever” and Dennis is all that passes for a doctor this far up the river. He nurses him back to health. And of course, he;s immediately attracted to the classy Astor.
Things get complicated in a few days when Vantine shows up back at the plantation. The boat had gotten stuck in a mud bank and, when the current swirls the boat around, the shaft and propeller snaps. The captain says it will take six weeks to get the parts back up and repair the ship.
After Gary recovers from the bout with malaria, Gable is already scheming to get him out of the way. He sends him downriver on a surveying expedition, about four weeks, despite the monsoon season arriving early. He suggests the swamp area might be too much for a woman and promises to keep her entertained. Young and naive, Gary feels honored at the responsibility.
Dennis’s men know wht’s going on and call him on it. The monsoon season is no time for such an expedition.
Dennis and Barbara start to get close while Vantine looks jealously on as the weeks roll by. They decide to tell Gary and Dennis jumps at the chance when there’s trouble at the survey site. A big tiger is preying in the area and the native workers there to cut wood refuse to go out. He plans to tell Gary that his wife doesn’t love him anymore, but gets noble when the young man talks about how much he loves her, how she gives him strength, how he couldn’t go on without her.
How he tells her and the ending makes for a fine finish with everything coming out like it should and gable not looking like the heel he might have. The times one presumes.
More than twenty years later, 1953, John Ford directed a remake, Mogambo, with Gable aboard, Ava Gardner as a similar type of the Harlow role, and Grace Kelly the sophisticated third leg of the triangle. Set in Africa and in color, the film score was African tribal music.
RED DUST was selected in 2006 by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry, deemed culturally, historically significant.
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