Filmsite Movie Review
Red Dust (1932)
Pages: (1) (2)

Plot Synopsis (continued)

Love Triangle:

Vantine's appearance set up a love triangle between Denny and the two women when Denny was immediately smitten by "Babs."

[Note: It was a competition and contrast between the two women involving class, manners, reputation, education, and sex.]

When Vantine first arrived, she had immediately sized up the situation: "What a pleasant little house party this is gonna be!"

Denny, who had unexpectedly shaved, "dressed up fancy" and smelled good, contemptuously warned Vantine about misbehaving and prancing around "half-naked" in the presence of the delicate "lady" guest who had just arrived:

"Now listen, this woman's decent. You watch your language and stop running around here half-naked."

He even threatened to give Vantine to the coolies - to help her get back to Saigon one way or the other. He sent her upstairs to keep her (and her inopportune comments) out of the way, so that he could chivalrously romance Babs:

Denny: "You'll go back to Saigon....Slung in a hammock through the bush."
Vantine: "Oh, I see. Two weeks in the swamp playing tag with your trusted coolies at night. I guess that would be good enough for me."
Denny: "You can keep your mouth shut and keep out of the way."

After Mr. Willis' recovery, 'Babs' was indebted to Denny for saving her husband's life and faithfully remaining in the plantation by his bedside: ("It's been almost three days, you stayed with him practically every minute, pulling Gary through this terrible...I just want you to know that I owe you a great deal"). Denny accepted her apology (for the impulsive slap) and her thanks by responding: "I'll take your IOU."

Later that night, Vantine attempted to seduce Denny, asking: "Denny, have you got a headache?...Would you like me to rub your forehead?...Well, could I get you a drink of something, uh?" Rejected by him, she replied: "Well, let's forget about the drink. I'll just rub your forehead with sandpaper."

The most memorable scene was Vantine's infamous, naked rain barrel bath scene, while Denny stood by and watched her. Bathing in the house's water cistern, she refused Denny's request to lower the curtain around her for privacy: "What's the matter? Afraid I'll shock the Duchess? Don't you suppose she's ever seen a French postcard?" When he came closer, she complained that he ignored her wishes: "Gee, can't a girl take a bath in privacy?" but then provocatively requested: "Hey Denny, scrub my back!" He dunked her and then lowered the curtain.

[Note: The rain-barrel sequence was recreated a year later by Harlow (as movie star Lola Burns) in her semi-autobiographical film Bombshell (1933), also directed by Victor Fleming.]

Sexual rivalry emerged within the love triangle when Denny decided to seduce 'Babs' by keeping her separated from her innocent and trusting husband. Denny was able to establish a relationship with her while her husband was briefly (and deliberately) sent away on a surveying mission. As Denny toured "Babs" around the plantation, he first demonstrated how liquid rubber was made into a flexible solid. She asked about his remote life: "Don't you ever miss the people and the comforts of the outside world? Don't you ever get tired of this?", but then she expressed an interest in living with him:

"Don't you really think I could fit in out here? Don't you think that I could be happy?"

Adulterous Temptations:

When a torrential wind, lightning and rainstorm came upon them in the jungle as they returned to the house, Denny took the half-fainting 'Babs' in his arms and rescued her from the rain-drenching storm. Vantine watched jealously as Denny carried her into the bedroom. He gave the adulterous, virginal married woman a forbidden kiss once they reached shelter, when she surrendered to him. Afterwards, 'Babs' was surprised at herself and expressed some slight regrets: "We shouldn't have done that" - while he responded: "But we did."

Vantine wittily confronted Denny about taking advantage of 'Babs' distress:

"Did the Duchess sprain her ankle? It must be wonderful to be big and strong....Be careful the rain doesn't wash the rouge off your mouth!"

She also offered 'Babs' a drink to calm her nerves during the storm - and they discussed her promiscuous indiscretion: "It'll make you forget a lot of things...This storm isn't the only thing that has you worried around here, is it? I saw him kick the door shut. He came out with rouge all over his mouth. Why, I suppose he asked to use your lipstick!" 'Babs' rationalized her behavior as innocent naivete and her need for protection. She explained away the kiss as "one of those excitement-of-the-moment things." Vantine wisely admonished: "Well, watch out for the next moment, honey. It's longer than the first."

Denny planned to send Gary away again on a lengthier surveying expedition for 3-4 weeks so that he could take advantage of 'Babs' during the absence. Seeing through Denny's dishonesty, Vantine realized what the scheming Denny was setting up and was "just a little nauseated" by it, and expressed her displeasure. Vantine also demonstrated her bawdy humor, and projected her rage onto a parrot as she cleaned the bottom of the bird's cage and asked about its droppings: "What you been eatin'? Cement?"

During Gary's absence, Denny continued to show affection for 'Babs' who returned his kisses willingly. He confessed to her that he wanted to sweep her off her feet:

"I never thought this could happen....I'm afraid I'm pretty crazy about you....We'll get out of this rotten country. I've always known that some day, we'll have a swell time, Babs."

Their plan was to have him inform her husband of their relationship: (Babs: "Are you going to tell him so soon?" Denny: "Sure. Might as well get it over with") and she agreed, although she was unsure how Gary would take it ("He's so helpless"). Just before Denny left to see Gary, he warned Vantine to be nice to Babs in his absence and "keep out of her way." She replied with mocking sincerity, as she buffed her nails:

"Just two girls together with so much in common....I thought we might run up a few curtains and make a batch of fudge while we'll plan what to wear to the Country Club dance Saturday night....I wouldn't touch her with your best pair of rubber gloves!"

During Denny's visit to Gary working in the swamp, Denny changed his mind about announcing their plan after hearing how deeply Gary loved his wife, and after listening to Gary describe their future plans:

"I'd fold up without Babs. Just being away from her this long has proven that....Babs and I were going to have children right away, and this job came up...I guess we'll wait until we get back home. Before we left, we bought a piece of property outside New York up on the Hudson. We're going to build and settle down there....Babs will be right there with all the people she's known and grown up with. All our closest friends have settled there too. And it'll be a swell place for the children."

Denny abruptly returned to the plantation. Meanwhile, Gary's suspicions about Denny's intentions toward Babs were aroused when he heard insinuations and gossip from Guidon about their adulterous affair: ("It was an open book on both their faces there was something up. He's been making a play for your wife ever since"). Worried and suspicious about the future of his marriage, Gary also saddled up to return early to the plantation to confront Denny.

The Resolution of the Love Triangle:

After Denny arrived back at the plantation, he confided in Vantine that he had decided to turn noble by not breaking up the Willis' marriage. She welcomed him home with a kiss: ("Welcome home, stranger"), sat in his lap, and kissed him. He affirmed that they were more suited to each other:

"You're not a bad kid, Lily. You know about us? We belong here. They don't, those two. Ah, it's a dirty rotten country. And we're dirty rotten people."

When 'Babs' entered the room with a gun, he was playfully wrestling with Vantine - using her to deliberately disillusion and repulse 'Babs.' Denny pretended he was a deceitful cad ("I'm not a one-woman man") who had never loved Babs, in order to end their relationship:

"I didn't say anything to your husband down there and I'm glad I didn't. I've just been kidding you all the time, and everybody knew about it...And if you want to cheat on your husband, that's okay with me. And I'm the boy you're looking for....And let me tell you this: I'm not a one-woman man, I never have been and I never will be."

In a jilted and furious rage, 'Babs' reacted by shooting him in the side. When Gary burst in, he was easily convinced that his wife had honorably rejected Denny's advances, by two claims:

  • 'Babs' was merely taking out her anger against him: (Denny: "Because I made a pass at her")
  • the rumors about them were a lie: (Vantine: "Guidon's a liar!")

Vantine persuasively supported Denny's account and stated that Babs' actions were just:

"You oughta be proud of her. This bozo's been after her every minute. And tonight he comes in drunk and tries to break into her room and she shoots him. The way any virtuous woman, with a beast like that. If I were you, Mr. Willis, I'd take her away from here, and the quicker the better."

After the climactic confrontation and the Willis' departure, Vantine performed a surgical operation on Denny to clean up his bullet wound.

In the final scene, Vantine also helped Denny recuperate from a gunshot wound - she sat by his bedside to read a bedtime story about a chipmunk and a rabbit. She asked herself a sexually-disguised question:

"A chipmunk and a rabbit. Hey, I wonder how this comes out?"

She also read a short excerpt from the newspaper about the Willis' return to the US by sailing to San Francisco. She then continued reading (with exaggerated baby talk) about the "hippity-hop, hippity-hop" Molly Cottontail rabbit, while she ignored him as he made little walking, "hippity-hoppity-ing" motions with his fingers up her thigh - moving his hand up her leg.

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