Red Dust

Red Dust ★★½

The racism that’s casually at the center of this movie is really, really hard to stomach, but man alive is Jean Harlow a wonder. She’s so comfortable and natural as Vantine that it does everyone else a disservice, as the view cannot understand how douchebag Dennis (Clark Gable) could ever choose anyone over her (particularly someone as bland as Barbara). In the hands of another actor, Vantine’s jibes and instinctive performances could have been very mannered, but for Harlow they’re as natural as breathing, serving to bring us closer to Vantine rather than push us away. She’s just incredible. Gable, meanwhile, is immensely appealing in the little moments when we’re not supposed to be looking at him — when he watches Vantine defend him, for example, or watches Barbara (Mary Astor) think. When he’s meant to be our focus, there’s a little too much “HELLO! I AM CLARK GABLE! LOOK AT HOW HOT I AM!” for me — he’s not wrong, but it’s so self-aware that it’s off-putting. Turning to the third lead, Astor’s character is the most familiar of them all: a young, naive woman who falls for a sexy brute in an unfamiliar context. For that reason, she’s just not very interesting, but holy hell does she look amazing with her hair all wet from the rain. Wowsers.

Anyway. Gable’s character is a raging asshole, but it’s hard not to want Vantine to be happy — it’s her that keeps us engaged, despite the rampant racism, and the endless asshattery wrought by Dennis.

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