In a Nutshell: Red Dust (1932)

clark gable jean harlow red dust

Directed by: Victor Fleming

Co-stars: Jean Harlow, Mary Astor, Gene Raymond

Synopsis: Gable is Dennis Carson, a rubber plantation owner in Indochina. His no-nonsense way of life is interrupted by the arrival of Lily, or “Vantine” (Harlow), a sassy prostitute from Saigon who is on the run from the law and wants to lay low for a while. They clash at first but soon are bedfellows. Just as Vantine leaves, overseer Gary Willis (Raymond) and his lovely wife, Barbara (Astor) arrive. Vantine’s boat wrecks and when she returns to the plantation, she finds that Dennis now only has eyes for Barbara. Heartbroken, she watches their affair unfold behind Gary”s back.

Best Gable Quote: “I have a special fondness for somebody who stands up and fights back. Particularly if she’s a woman who looks extraordinarily beautiful when she’d doing it. And even more beautiful when she’s calmed down.”

Fun Fact: During filming of the rain barrel sequence, Harlow stood up in the barrel, topless, and shouted, “Here’s one for the boys in the lab!” and burst into laughter. Director Fleming had the film removed from the camera and destroyed to prevent any leaks from getting out on the black market.

My Verdict: If you see just one of Clark Gable’s pre-codes, it needs to be this one. The heat between Clark and Jean Harlow, not to mention their easy banter, is extraordinary. Also not to be ignored is the firey chemistry between Mary Astor and Clark. The humid and sticky jungle setting–making Clark always seem sweaty and dirty—just adds to the ambience. This role wasn’t Clark’s breakout role, but it was the one that shot him to superstardom.

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