The second pairing of Clark Gable and Jean Harlow is a steamy drama of infidelity, set against an exotic background and peppered with dialog and situations that pushed the boundaries of Hollywood self-censorship as far as they would go. Gable plays the head of a rubber plantation located
in the Far East, where he is assisted by Tully Marshall and Donald Crisp. Crisp is returning from a trip to Saigon, arriving on a boat on which Harlow, a prostitute running from the law, is also a passenger. She fends off Crisp's drunken wooing, then Gable and Marshall arrive to help out. Gable
agrees to let her stay at the plantation until the next boat leaves in a week. Gable gives Harlow a cold shoulder at first, but gradually he sees that her vocation belies her inner self, and warms to her beguiling manner. They have an affair, then Harlow bids adieu. Arriving on the boat on which
Harlow will depart are newlyweds Gene Raymond, an engineer, and Mary Astor. Expecting to begin working immediately for Gable, Raymond is suddenly struck down by jungle fever. Gable takes care of the ill man, then is surprised by the return of Harlow whose ship has been disabled. She wants to renew
the affair with Gable, but he has turned his attentions toward Astor. After Raymond recovers, Gable sends him on a bridge construction project. With Raymond out of the way, Gable and Astor now consummate their affair. Raymond returns, showing nothing but admiration for Gable. This shames the
plantation owner, and Gable decides to end his dalliance with Astor. To be rid of her, Gable once more takes up with Harlow, which sends Astor into a rage. When Gable finally tells her it's quits, Astor shoots him in the side. Gable collapses, and Raymond enters after hearing the shot. Harlow
explains to him that Astor was forced to shoot Gable to stop his unrelenting sexual advances. Raymond decides to quit his job, and, along with his unfaithful wife, leaves the plantation. Harlow remains behind, helping Gable recover from the wound, and Gable realizes this is the woman he has been
Harlow is at her brazen best here, tossing off lines that brim with sexual innuendo. She invests her character also with a darker side, providing a complex counterpart to Gable's performance. His rugged personality, with its clear disdain for women, is pushed to the limits by her and forced into a
moral turnabout. The terrific chemistry between Harlow and Gable here reflects their abilities as actors. Though reportedly they had little rapport during the filming of their previous effort, THE SECRET SIX, the two got involved with this film, pushing each other to add spice to the love scenes.
Gable was unhappy with the story, finding the subject matter distasteful, but because of his contract was obliged to make the film. Professional that he was, he gave his all, turning in a fine performance.
Indeed, the professionalism of all the stars was stretched to its limits during the shooting of the film. In the steamy kiss between Gable and Astor, the two actors had to put up with a myriad of set problems while waiting to perform the simple act. There were complaints about the hot lights that
were causing the actors to sweat profusely. Director Victor Fleming decided to go for the realism and let the sweat show since the setting was the steamy tropics. After a perspiration-soaked rehearsal, the actors lounged in bathtubs to cool off. The heat was so unbearable that water was literally
vaporizing off Gable's and Astor's clothing right before the camera. This was finally resolved by heating up water in tea kettles, then pouring the warm water on the two stars in order to keep them moist for the cameras. The production was rocked by scandal when Harlow's husband, Paul Bern,
committed suicide. Bern, who had been an assistant to MGM's wunderkind Irving Thalberg, doused himself with Harlow's perfume, then put a bullet in his head on Labor Day weekend, 1932, leaving his corpse for Harlow to find. The studio made intense efforts to cover up the nature of Bern's death and
to ensure that no link would be made between Harlow and Gable. Studio chief Louis B. Mayer, infuriated that the specter of scandal had finally crossed MGM's gates, decided it would be best to replace Harlow in the picture, and interviewed several actresses for the part, including Tallulah
Bankhead, who at that time was still struggling to crack Hollywood stardom. Eventually it was decided to continue shooting with Harlow, although she came to the set in a depressed state of mind, still in shock and mourning. However, a poll of theater managers and film exhibitors proved that
audiences were eager to see Harlow on screen. Mayer, in a complete turnabout, demanded the film's production be hurried to capitalize on the public sympathy generated for Harlow in the wake of the scandal. Harlow went on a successful publicity tour for the film, and the worst appeared to be over.
Howard Hawks claimed to have contributed to RED DUST's screenplay, though screenwriter John Mahin, who had often worked with Fleming, disputed this claim. RED DUST, based on a play that closed after eight performances, was remade twice: first as a programmer for Ann Sothern's MAISIE series,
entitled CONGO MAISIE (1940); then in 1953, as MOGAMBO with Gable reprising his role, costarring with Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly, under the direction of John Ford.
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- Review: The second pairing of Clark Gable and Jean Harlow is a steamy drama of infidelity, set against an exotic background and peppered with dialog and situations that pushed the boundaries of Hollywood self-censorship as far as they would go. Gable plays the hea… (more)