Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mogambo vs. Red Dust

TCM is airing Mogambo tonight at 8:00 PM ET as part of the salute to Star of the Month Ava Gardner. It's a remake of the earlier Red Dust, with Clark Gable playing the male lead in both movies. To be honest, I prefer Red Dust.

In Mogambo, Ava Gardner plays a chorus girl stuck in Africa with big-game hunter Clark Gable, who falls in love with her. Then, Grace Kelly shows up with her husband, and Gable falls in love with Kelly, leading to predictable tension. In Red Dust, the Gardner part is taken by Jean Harlow, while the Kelly part is played by Mary Astor. (Red Dust is set on a rubber plantation in Indochina, but that's not important here.) I think the women are better cast in Red Dust: Jean Harlow exudes much more raw sexuality than Gardner, and the fact that Red Dust was made before the imposition of the Production Code makes it easier to show off the steaminess. As for Grace Kelly, she's lovely, but generally comes across as much too icy. Mary Astor has more ambiguity to her, and you can see why she would become disillusioned being stuck in the middle of nowhere and fall for Gable.

Also, Clark Gable was in his early fifties when he made Mogambo. I always knew he hadn't aged well, although part of that was colored by having seen Any Number Can Play, where his character is supposed to be somebody whom time has treated badly. Things don't get better by the time he made Mogambo. The one thing Mogambo does have going for it over Red Dust, though, is the fact that it was made on location, and in beautiful Technicolor. It's not a terrible movie by any stretch of the imagination, either; I just find it inferior to the original.

Mogambo has been released to DVD; Red Dust apparently hasn't. But you can watch Red Dust in a little under two weeks on TCM, at 5:00 AM ET on November 23. (That is, the very beginning of Tuesday morning; TCM lists it as being late late in the night on Monday.)

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