King of the Kids!!
22 October 2012
Warning: Spoilers
During the thirties when producers thought a little added extra was needed to make Westerns popular again, there was an interesting cycle of "B" Westerns about the making of Westerns. There was "Scarlet River" where Tom Keene, as a movie cowboy pitted wits and fitness against Creighton Chaney, a real cowboy, and came up trumps, there was "Hollywood Roundup", very real in it's depiction of just how a top Hollywood actress would feel on being demoted to the "Outdoor Specials" unit. And there was "It Happened in Hollywood" with Richard Dix as a top cowboy star (based on Tom Mix) who makes a comeback when his career is all washed up by the arrival of talkies. In a case of art imitating life, Dix had been one of Paramount's top stars of the 1920s but when talkies came in the studio inexplicably dropped him (like they did Bebe Daniels), he then moved to RKO (same as Bebe) and never stopped working throughout the 30s and 40s.

1928 and Tim Bart (Dix), Western star, is King of the Kids - along with his beautiful appaloosa Toby. But by the end of the year talking pictures are here to stay and Tim is like a fish out of water as he struggles with a tight dress suit and over ripe dialogue that is meaningless to him. For his co-star Gloria Gay (Fay Wray) it's a different story, her screen test goes over perfectly and big things are predicted for her. Things are looking pretty grim for Tim until he is involved in a fight at the local diner - his old director sees it and also sees Tim as a new gangster star. But Tim is not keen, he feels his young fans will not accept him as a bad guy and when he realises he will have to shoot a cop - he walks out!!

This is just a great movie and the high point (for me) would have to be the party attended by the stand-ins of the stars. There's Mae West, Greta Garbo, W.C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin and Victor McLauglin among others. There is even a Bing Crosby look a like who sings "Let's Fall in Love". It is all put on for one of Tim's most ardent fans, a little boy who has ran away from hospital to visit his hero. This makes Tim more determined than ever to turn his 500 acre spread into a ranch camp for kids but the bank is repossessing it and when he turns to Gloria, who has never stopped believing in him, it is only to find she has not made a go of it in talkies either. He contemplates robbing a bank but ends up foiling a real robbery and suddenly finds his popularity has soared as Westerns are now back in favour.

This was an honest look at the plight of the Western when movies started to talk. By the end of 1929 audiences were probably wondering if the Western was to be a casualty of sound. Westerns needed fluid camera mobility but sound films needed cameras encased in soundproof boxes with no movement. "Hell's Heroes" was Universal's first out door talkie directed by William Wyler, who actually took the sound proof camera out of doors and put it on wheels. He proved Westerns need not be restricted by the talkies and so, after December 1929, "outdoor specials" found renewed popularity once more.
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