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Scarlet River

Scarlet River(1933)

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Scarlet River (1933)

This series Western from RKO has the courage to laugh at the genre, a feat it pulls off quite effectively thanks to Harold Shumate's witty script and Tom Keene's performance in the lead. At the time, Keene, perhaps better known for such independent classics as Our Daily Bread (1934) and Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), was the studio's resident B Western star. But instead of playing a sheriff or heroic cowhand, this time around he's a movie star whose company is having trouble shooting their latest Western. After several attempts to film near Hollywood - which allows for cameos by such stars as Joel McCrea and Myrna Loy, playing themselves - they find a remote ranch whose owner, Dorothy Williams, desperately needs the location fees. Between scenes, Keene discovers the reasons for the ranch's problems. Ranch hand Roscoe Ates is too busy writing film scripts to tend to his job, while foreman Lon Chaney, Jr. (still being billed as Creighton Chaney) is plotting to steal the ranch for a crooked banker. Keene has to draw upon all his skills as a filmmaker to save the day.

By Frank Miller

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Scarlet River (1933)

An amusing western about a movie company filming a western, 1933's Scarlet River was initiated by David O. Selznick during his stint as studio boss at RKO. Harold Shumate's smartly turned tale features cowboy star Tom Keene playing cowboy star 'Tom Baxter,' in search of a good film location for himself and his leading lady Babe Jewel (Betty Furness). The irony is that filming westerns around Los Angeles is getting tough because of all the new real estate developments and hot dog stands. Tom chooses the Scarlet River Ranch, owned by pretty Judy Blake (Dorothy Wilson). She authorizes the filming to raise needed income, not realizing that her foreman (Creighton Chaney, soon to become 'Lon Chaney, Jr.') and a crooked banker have been burning her stores and stealing cattle to force her to sell out to them. Director Otto Brower has fun with more Hollywood in-jokes, as when Myrna Loy, Bruce Cabot and Joel McCrea are seen in the studio cafeteria. He also receives terrific comedy relief from slow burn comedian Edgar Kennedy, as the director of the film-within-the-film. Add to this formula the stuttering comedian Roscoe Ates (Freaks, 1932) in a non-stuttering role as a cowpoke who wants to be a screenwriter, and famed stuntman Yakima Canutt as Tom Baxter's stuntman, and Scarlet River is a clever and satisfying entertainment. For a happy finale, the movie company rides to the rescue like the cavalry, and Tom proves himself a hero off the screen as well.

By Glenn Erickson

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