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GABLE AND HARLOW TURN UP THE HEAT,
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This review is from: Red Dust (DVD)
There are many today who harbor the misconception that old movies are automatically inferior to today's mega productions just because they're old. Nonsense. RED DUST (MGM, 1932), shows us in wonderful pre-code style that a film's age is no criterion for its entertainment value. Even after 80 years the magnetism of its two leads is undeniably apparent. There's nothing quaint about it; in fact, it beats out most of today's fodder in terms of its suggestive eroticism, and its ability to put a story and characterizations across convincingly within a modest running time of 83 minutes.
Directed by Victor Fleming and set on a rubber plantation in Indochina, RED DUST has Clark Gable as the plantation overseer falling head over heels for the wife of a hired engineer, played respectively by Mary Astor and Gene Raymond. All the while Gable has his hands full trying to keep a stranded prostitute, Jean Harlow, from gumming up his designs on Astor.
What may sound as a routine, adultery/quadrangle romance is transformed into a lively, steamy romp that satisfies even after multiple viewings, thanks to the capable guidance of Fleming and the terrific, red-hot chemistry of Gable and Harlow. Of the six films they made together, RED DUST comes out on top. When they're on, our attention is glued to the screen. The production values are also impressive, boasting a huge, man-made jungle set fully equipped with an extensive overhead sprinkler system to provide the incessant rainstorm that serves as a metaphor for the emotional torrent surging within the characters. In watching this movie, one can truly appreciate the creativity of the studio system during this period and its expertise in projecting realism through sheer artifice. We really feel like we're in a humid, insect infested jungle and not on an MGM soundstage. Contrary to the opinion that early '30's movies suffered for lack of a music score, RED DUST makes us forget the fact that the only music heard is in the opening and closing titles. The performances are rich and the dialog is snappy and forceful, which keeps it all moving at a brisk pace. There's never a dull moment. I've watched it many times and it's always a pure delight.
RED DUST was remade in 1953 as MOGAMBO, and was directed by John Ford with Gable repeating his role. This time around he's supported by Ava Gardner in the Harlow role and Grace Kelly in the Astor role. Reset in Africa, the remake benefits by some beautiful Technicolor location photography, but even that can't substitute for the spicier handling of the material in the less restraining days of 1932. While Gable is still Gable, Gardner and Kelly (early in her career) aren't quite up to par with their original counterparts. Gardner fares better than Kelly, but she just can't replace the potent memory of Harlow.
At last available from the Warner Bros. Archive Collection, this DVD-R of RED DUST looks and sounds great, having been transferred off a clean, crisp source print. The only extra is a 1932 Spanish trailer that's interesting because it contains a brief bit of a scene that didn't make the final cut.
If you're looking for a film that's representative of the best of pre-code Hollywood and also features two of its most charismatic stars, RED DUST delivers it in spades.