Chris Hicks: Classic Harlow & Gable flick ‘Red Dust’ arrives on DVD at long last

Published: Saturday, Nov. 10 2012 2:00 p.m. MST

Fans still clamor for a lot of vintage movies that have never been released on DVD, and very high on that list is “Red Dust,” which finally arrives this week, along with a bevy of other golden oldies and a few Blu-ray upgrades. (Warner Archive titles are available at www.WarnerArchive.com.)

“Red Dust” (Warner Archive, 1932, b/w, $18.95). This pre-censorship potboiler focuses on top-billed Clark Gable as a hot-blooded rubber-plantation overseer in Indochina involved with second-billed Jean Harlow, as a street-smart, wisecracking loose woman. That is, until sophisticated — and married — Mary Astor catches his eye.

An excellent example of how a great script allows a film to depict obsessive passion without resorting to the graphic sex and nudity that is so prevalent today. There’s no doubt as to what is going on, and it’s portrayed in a very adult manner with witty dialogue, but it’s not anywhere near as offensive as it would be in a 21st century film.

It’s also a fine example of why certain stars are so beloved: Gable is at his most charming, Harlow is funny, smart and sexy, and their onscreen chemistry is palpable. The only drawback here is some of the racial stereotypes on display. Not to excuse such material, but when watching films this old it’s important to put them into historical perspective.

“Hold Your Man” (Warner Archive, 1933, b/w, $18.95). How big a star was Harlow? A year after “Red Dust” she co-starred with Gable in this comic melodrama and their billing was switched: She was first; he was second. This entertaining effort begins as a comedy and later shifts to drama as cynical Harlow teams up with con artist Gable for a few scams. After she’s incarcerated and sure that he’s forgotten her, Gable comes up with a few surprises.

“Sunset Blvd.” (Paramount/Blu-ray, 1950, b/w, $26.98, deleted scene, featurettes, photo galleries, trailer). Billy Wilder’s classic satire of the movie business is biting and very dark, and it resurrected the career of former silent star Gloria Swanson, thanks to her striking, unforgettable performance as the deluded Norma Desmond.

William Holden also scores as a failed screenwriter whom Norma manipulates into becoming her gigolo. Erich von Stroheim is wonderfully understated as Norma’s protective butler, and Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton, Hedda Hopper and other screen legends appear as themselves, while Old Hollywood is as much embraced as it is skewered.

New among the copious bonus features is a deleted scene of a comic song that was thought to be too inside in its lampooning of the movie studios.

“Guys and Dolls” (Warner/Blu-ray, 1955, $34.99, featurettes, trailer; 44-page book packaging). Marlon Brando is an odd choice to play Damon Runyon’s Sky Masterson but he pulls it off pretty well in this sprightly adaptation of the Broadway musical about a gambler trying to court a Salvation Army sergeant (Jean Simmons) who is trying to save him. A wonderful song score, Frank Sinatra is in top form, and Vivien Blaine and Stubby Kaye delightfully reprise their stage roles.

“Lili” (Warner Archive, 1953, $18.95). Enchanting tale of an orphan (Leslie Caron) who joins a carnival and charms everyone she meets, in particular a bitter puppeteer (Mel Ferrer) who expresses his feelings through his marionettes. Too bad she’s in love with the handsome magician (Jean Pierre Aumont) who is married to his assistant (Zsa Zsa Gabor).

“Ada” (Warner Archive, 1961, $18.95). Susan Hayward is a powerhouse in this timely story of political corruption and manipulation. She stars as a woman with a dark past who marries a Southern gubernatorial candidate (Dean Martin) in the midst of a dirty campaign. When he becomes governor but remains a puppet for private interests, she bulldozes the way toward reform.

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