Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1932. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by John Lee Mahin, based on the play by Wilson Collison. Cinematography by Harold Rosson. Produced by Hunt Stromberg, Irving Thalberg. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons. Costume Design by Adrian. Film Editing by Blanche Sewell.
Clark Gable runs a rubber plantation in southeast Asia, his daily grind interrupted by the appearance of a brassy blond (Jean Harlow) who is avoiding the authorities in Saigon, Sadie Thompson style, and sets Gable’s loins ablaze upon sight. After a surveyor arrives to work the land but is taken ill with fever, Gable befriends the new arrival’s classy wife (Mary Astor) who also appeals to him but in loftier ways. Atmosphere is a key highlight of this lurid film shot entirely on studio backlots but with a tangible feel for the tropics of a distant land, brought even more vividly to life by the sexy chemistry between the leads that is ripely displayed in all its pre-code glory. The particularly raw chemistry between Gable and Harlow, who was always so charming for how little she seemed to care about being good, was likely what shot this one up the charts of the year’s box office: just try and not be turned on by the way he yanks her hair while she’s clearly naked in a water barrel, while Astor does not overplay the upper class prig and allows herself to be obviously turned on by her young male co-star’s trim and chiseled naked torso. The plot development is pure corn but the execution is far too enjoyable for it to matter. Remade in 1953 as Mogambo with Gable reprising his role and Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly filling in for the ladies.