Red Dust (1932): Victor Fleming’s Romantic Adventure, Starring Gable, Harlow and Mary Astor

Directed by Victor Fleming, Gable’s favorite he-man filmmaker, Red Dust showcases “the King” to an advantage, romanced by two special ladies, Jean Harlow and Mary Astor.

Based on Wilson Collison’s 1928 play of the same name, the scenario was adapted by John Mahin.

Produced in the Pre-Code era of Hollywood, Red Dust is the second of six movies Gable and Harlow made together.

The film’s title is derived from the large quantities of dust that are stirred up by the storms.

The tale is set on a rubber plantation in French Indochina during the monsoon season, centering on a romantic triangle of the plantation’s owner-manager Dennis Carson (Gable), the prostitute Vantine (Harlow), and Barbara Willis (Astor), the wife of engineer Gary Willis (Raymond). Carson abandons his casual relationship with Vantine to pursue Barbara, but then has a change of heart and returns to Vantine.

Vantine arrives at the plantation on the lam from the authorities in Saigon. She is a good-time girl, displaying easy comfort in the plantation’s harsh environment, and playfully teases Carson with her wisecracks and seductive allure.

He can’t resist her charm for too long, and they quickly develop a casual relationship in which they tease each other, pretending to be too tough for real love. Their favorite game is to call each other “Fred” and “Lily,”, as if neither can remember the other’s name.

Carson loses interest in Vantine when Gary Willis, a young, inexperienced engineer, and his wife Barbara is a classy lady arrive.  After sending Gary on surveying trip, he seduces Barbara, while Vantine watches jealously. He successfully persuades Barbara to leave Gary for him, but recants after visiting Gary in the swamp and learning of his deep love for her. Barbara is unsuited for the primitive conditions on the plantation, as is Gary, and he still has painful memories of his mother’s death on the plantation as a boy. He decides to send both of them back to more civilized society, where they belong.

Carson turns Barbara’s feelings against himself by pretending he had never loved her, and she shoots him. Vantine and Carson then save Barbara’s reputation by insisting that Barbara acted in self-defense,  rejecting Carson’s advances.

The film ends with the Willises departure, and Vantine reading bedtime stories to Carson as he recuperates from the gunshot wound.

The movie was commercially profitable, largely due to the strong stars presence.  On several occasions, Gable takes off his shirt and reveals a sexy chest.

Red Dust was remade in 1953 by John Ford in the far more entertaining Technicolor version, Mogambo,  shifting the setting to Africa (from Indochina), with Ava Gardner in the Harlow role, Grace Kelly playing Astor’s part, and Clark Gable, older by 21 years but still sexy, reprising the same character.

In 2006, Red Dust was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


Clark Gable as Dennis Carson

Jean Harlow as Vantine Jefferson

Mary Astor as Barbara Willis

Gene Raymond as Gary Willis

Tully Marshall as “Mac” McQuarg overseer

Donald Crisp as Guidon, overseer

Willie Fung as Hoy, house servant

Forrester Harvey as Captain Limey




MGM production


Running time: 86 minutes