Red Dust (1932)
Before he immortalized the role of Rhett Butler in producer David O. Selznick’s Oscar winning blockbuster – the film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s celebrated novel – Gone With the Wind (1939) Clark Gable played plenty of other womanizing rogues in the movies like the one he plays in this steamy pre-code drama opposite Jean Harlow the screen’s original blonde bombshell? and Mary Astor. Like GWTW this movie was directed by Victor Fleming; Wilson Collison’s story was scripted by John Lee Mahin. This film was added to the National Film Registry in 2006.
Gable plays the owner of a rubber plantation in Indo-China where he becomes involved in a love triangle with a floozy (Harlow) on the run from the law and later the wife (Astor) of an engineer he’s hired played by Gene Raymond whose character is conveniently stricken with malaria. The film includes an infamous nude (in a water barrel) sequence featuring Harlow’s character splashing and teasing Gable’s; afterwards their relationship heats up pretty quickly in the jungle setting. But Gable’s head is turned when Astor’s character a woman with “real class"? arrives on the scene causing sparks of a different kind to fly between the prior lovers. Character actor Donald Crisp who appeared in four of the original Lassie movies including the famous collie’s debut in Lassie Come Home (1943) plays one of Gable’s employees and a voice of reason to his employer-friend about the dangerous love triangle.
The story was so well received that the owning studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) later remade it again with Gable – this time as a big game hunter set in Africa – as Mogambo (1953) opposite Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly respectively. But this is one of my favorite Gable-Harlow films (they made half a dozen films together this was their second) and the superior version … and not just because Mary Astor looks (uncharacteristically?) sexy in it too. FYI a scene from this film was used in the story of another Harlow film Bombshell (1933).