Red Dust ★★★½

A very entertaining MGM pre-code film. It's easy to see why Clark Gable and Jean Harlow were paired in so many films - their on-screen chemistry is near-perfect. Here Gable plays the operator of a rubber plantation in Indochina and is at his rugged virile peak. It's from the period before he sported his famous mustache (and frankly he looks more attractive without it). Harlow is a prostitute on the run from the authorities. Their sexual escapades are interrupted by the arrival of a proper more sophisticated couple. played by Gene Raymond and Mary Astor. When the husband gets ill with malaria, Gable has an affair with the wife whose more ladylike ways are a sharp contract to Harlow's worldliness.

The dialogue is witty and quite frank in its sexual allusions, a fair about of skin shown by both male and female leads, and there's more than a bit of melodrama coming out of the Harlow-Gable-Astor triangle. It moves at a good pace, has a good supporting cast (Donald Crisp playing against type as nasty drunk), and is well-directed and photographed. It was remade in the 1950s with Gable again playing the lead (he must've looked fairly old for that part by that time), and Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly in the women's roles.

The only sore point (and it's pretty glaring) is the racist portrayal of the Malaysian characters. Regardless of it being somewhat common in these early Hollywood films, it's still quite offensive and cringe-worthy. It's very sad because the overt racism detracts from one's full enjoyment of films from this era.

Not a great film but a good example of pre-code Hollywood with the MGM production values. And one of the best teamings of Clark Gable and Jean Harlow.

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