“Don't you think I could be happy?”
“Would you mind if I made it my job to see that you are?”
Any film that takes place in warm locations such as Africa or South America, make my skin crawl. It has nothing to do with the cultures and most of the time the stories are good. What makes my skin crawl is seeing the characters sweat like crazy from the heat and being in areas of the world that are so remote you would have to be insane to chose to go there let alone there. I despise the heat with so much passion. I love to say that in the cold you can pile on the clothes but in the heat you cannot strip down to your underwear if you are in public. I hate feeling like I am going to combust from the inside out when I am hot.
Anyway, there is somewhat of a point to my rambling… maybe. The 1932 film Red Dust takes place in a remote part of Asia where the sun is constantly high and there is no relief from the heat. And all the characters are sweating their asses off.
Dennis Carson (Clark Gable) is the owner and manager of a rubber plantation in the middle of the jungle in China. A prostitute named Vantine (Jean Harlow) is on the run from the law in Saigon and came across his place to stay. At first he wants her out but then he lets her stay the night after they have a “talk”.
The following day Dennis wants Vantine out of the house and away from his plantation because he has a new worker, Gary Willis (Gene Raymond) and his wife Barbara (Mary Astor) coming in by boat that afternoon. When Gary and Barbara come in, Dennis boards the boat to help them with their things. Gary is on the bed not looking too well. Barbara first gets a load of Dennis through a mirror and stops right in the middle of what she is doing to stare at him. As soon as they get back to Dennis’ place he can see that Gary is ill with some kind of jungle virus. He gives Gary some pills and tells him to stay in bed until his sickness passes.
Vantine comes back that night much to Dennis’ dismay. The boat broke down and will not be fixed for a few weeks. Dennis is now worried about giving off the wrong impression to Barbara by having Vantine around.
While Gary was sick, Dennis and Barbara become close. After he carried her home during a rainstorm they kissed and from then on carried on an affair. Things get serious between them and they want to tell Gary that they are together. Dennis had sent Gary out to the plantation to do some work. He goes out there to help kill a tiger. Dennis had planned on telling Gary about he and Barbara going away together but after Gary tells him about his plans for the future with his wife he cannot go on with his plan. Dennis heads back to camp during a downpour to be with Barbara. One of Dennis’ workers drunkenly slips about Dennis and Barbara. Gary gets into a fury and heads back during the downpour as well.
Back at the house Dennis tells Barbara he cannot go off with her anymore and that their relationship was all a lie. She had heard Dennis crashing around the table with Vantine while she was in bed and grabbed her gun in case it was an intruder making noise. When Barbara sees Vantine with Dennis she gets upset and shoots Dennis in the side. Gary comes home just after the shot went off. Barbara tells her husband that Dennis tried to make a move on her and she shot him. Vantine backs her up by saying Dennis is in love with Barbara and has been trying to get with her all the time he was away.
There should be hopefully no shock that Vantine and Dennis end up together totally in love at the end.
I am not usually a Jean Harlow fan but I loved her as Vantine. I think I can finally say I have seen a film where I can understand how and why Harlow was considered a sex symbol. She was definitely sexy in Red Dust and her smart, sarcastic, quick attitude was perfect. There is a scene where Vantine gets mad at Dennis and she sits down hard on a chair and put her feet on the desk. Her dress falls down around her thighs and she picks it up. I was in awe of Harlow in that scene. That is the scene where I finally understood her appeal. And damn woman had a great pair of legs on her! Clark Gable is Clark Gable. He never does anything for me. He does not have sex appeal that is believable and it always baffles me how his characters get the girl (or a girl). Mary Astor was perfect. I have loved every performance I have seen her in. Gene Raymond like Gable really does nothing for me.
Red Dust is a good film. I think all the heat and the sweating that at least the male characters did added to the tension and drama of the story. I for one would never stand living in the jungle. If I ever had a husband who told me he was going to work in the jungle in China or anywhere else in the world and wanted me to come with him I would tell him go to hell I am staying in civilization! Red Dust is a fantastic example of a Pre-Code film with seduction, Jean Harlow barely dressed half time and swimming naked around in a barrel of water, and Harlow and Gable making out on a table. Red Dust is definitely worth a watch for any Old Hollywood fan.