I’ve started a new lifetime reading list regime this week and I suppose I’ll go into that with you at a later date, but for now I’d rather discuss my other current passion: Out-of-print movies on Youtube.
As I grow more and more interested in film, I find that there are a gajillion movies out there that have somehow failed to find their way onto DVD, at least in the U.S. Fortunately, however, there are curiosity freaks out there in Internetland who are passionate about these things and will post what they have on Youtube. The medium is unfortunate; the films have to be split up into 8-10 minute segments which can create a huge problem in flow. But if this is the price of seeing obscure treasures, I am willing to pay it.
Here’s what I do: I go through the schedules at the nation’s leading repertory theaters (Film Forum in NY, Cinefamily in LA, etc.) and find movies that I may want to see. Then I find them if I can and watch them. It’s that simple.
This week’s feature is a Victor Fleming double-header from the early 1930s: Red Dust and Bombshell. Both of these movies feature Jean Harlow, one of my favorites.
You all know Victor Fleming; he only directed The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind – both in 1939. That’s a hell of a resume.
Red Dust came out in 1932 and it stars Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and Mary Astor. It takes place on a rubber plantation in Indochina of which Gable is the owner. Harlow plays a wisecracking prostitute (this is pre-code, so it has lots of suggestiveness and titlation) who stops over and falls for Gable. He, however, has the hots for Astor, who is married to one of his employees. It’s a sweaty soap opera for sure and there’s lots of bare skin to be seen – enough to satisfy anyone. This movie also features Harlow’s famous “rain barrel” scene, in which she appears to be completely naked in a barrel of water when Clark Gable grabs her by the hair and dunks her. Yes, this movie is like that.
Red Dust was remade twenty years (called Mogambo for some reason) later by the great John Ford. Clark Gable plays the same role except in Africa and he’s a big-game hunter. Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly play the female leads. It is surprisingly less sexy than the original. Neither movie is great, which must speak to the material, considering the outstanding directors and the casts.
Bombshell, on the other hand, is a FANTASTIC movie. I had actually seen this a few times before and it is one of my favorite movies. Made in 1933, Jean Harlow basically plays herself in a comic parody of the life of a Hollywood bombshell (the 'If' Girl, if you will - Fleming also made several movies with Clara Bow (Hollywood's original It Girl) in the previous decade). They even recreate the rain barrel scene from Red Dust, giving the movie a self-referential, Charlie Kaufmanesque feel. The great Lee Tracy plays the male lead – a perfect, fast-talking publicity man who works for the studio. This movie contains some of the best dialog ever written and spoken by some of the best comic actors in Hollywood history. Even the supporting cast is exceptionally strong. The movie is fast-paced and flat out hilarious.
Unfortunately, the version of Bombshell on Youtube is burdened with subtitles, but you get used to it. The movie is even called Mademoiselle Dinamite in the subtitles – which I find hysterical.