Scarlet Dawn (1932)

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Douglas Fairbanks Jr. loses his status and finds love during the Russian Revolution. 

In Scarlet Dawn (1932) Douglas Fairbanks Jr. plays a Russian officer and aristocrat who flees during the chaos of the Revolution. While he was a member of the ruling class, Fairbanks lived it up and romanced courtesan Lilyan Tashman, but he has to hide and don a disguise to survive the riots. When his sweet and faithful servant Nancy Carroll saves him from a blown cover and helps him evade the Bolsheviks, they grab some valuables and run away together. On their way to Istanbul they’re robbed, have to sleep in fields, endure long walks and slowly fall in love. Better to say, Carroll is clearly more in love than Fairbanks, who spends much of their time on the journey trying to figure out why she’s following him, and trying to convince her to go back and enjoy the promised spoils and power, now that her class has upended society, destroyed order and driven out the “haves.” Carroll vows to stay with him and she wants more than a roll in the grass, like the one he insistently tries to initiate.

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Once in Istanbul they live in a tiny flat while Carroll washes floors at the hospital and Fairbanks washes dishes at a ritzy hotel till his hands are raw and cracked. They’re married in a cute scene where Fairbanks races around grabbing random people off the street to act as witnesses, and they seem very happy in their little world of few material but many simple treasures. Then one day, Fairbanks, in his new position as waiter, runs into Tashman. He doesn’t tell her he’s married but she tells him she has a great scam in the works in Paris, where he can dress up in his old uniform, act as a tourist attraction and use his charms to sell fake baubles to rich gullible women. He finds the job crooked, distasteful and below him, but he’s not above accepting the offer anyway, to get away from hard work and poverty and go back to living in the glamour to which he was accustomed.

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He leaves Carroll, promising her he’ll return when he makes more money, and takes it as a bad signal when she fails to wave goodbye at the window as he departs. Little did he know she collapsed from pains that we are correct to assume are related to the pregnancy she didn’t have the heart to tell him about. Will Fairbanks return to Carroll, or stay with the shallow Tashman as a crook in Baron’s clothing? Will Carroll survive childbirth? Will the new crackdown on Russians in Turkey mean deportation and death for Fairbanks? Watch Scarlet Dawn and find out.

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I’m a huge fan of Fairbanks so I‘ve seen this movie a few times and I enjoy his performance and handsome, dashing look here, so it’s a definite recommend for his fans. Objectively speaking though, I can see people might find a few weaknesses, like an underdeveloped role for Carroll and a pace that skips across some major historical and personal events like a well-pitched rock on a pond. At 57 minutes this movie just flies; for me the speed is fine, light and busy, nothing out of the ordinary for a pre-Code. A full love story during the Bolshevik Revolution is a tough one to condense (or even get factually right, which this couldn’t) but director William Dieterle does a good job of fitting it all in, keeping us interested and making the studio sets look suitably glamorous, epic or hovel-like. He even includes a spectacular car crash that serves as instant karma for some opportunistic thieves as well as an opportunity to see the cold side of Fairbanks’ character. This cast is fun; besides our leads there’s also Guy Kibbee, Mischa Auer, Mae Busch and Frank (King Kong) Reicher (all in very small roles). Scarlet Dawn is a rewarding view if you don’t expect to get a history lesson or a drawn out Zhivago-esque love story (I prefer this to that anyway), and it’s entertaining if you want to watch Fairbanks in his prime, playing a flawed and shallow fellow learning how to be a responsible man and good husband.

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This post is part of the Russia in Classic Film blogathon hosted by Movies, Silently

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21 thoughts on “Scarlet Dawn (1932)”

  1. I really loved this one…I remember reading it was originally a longer film, and it needed it. The last scene — will he find her? won’t he? — and their uncertain future moved me deeply.

    And what a hunk! 🙂

    Best wishes,
    Laura

    1. and guess who I got my copy from? You know I love staring at Fairbanks so that alone makes it great to me (and it was a juicy role too, looks aside). Would have benefited from extra minutes but still skips along, gives you the love story and doesn’t bore. Thanks!

  2. Wow, I’d love to see this – great cast and director, and you make the plot sound really intriguing. Will keep my eyes open for it.

    1. I like it a lot but really think you can’t go wrong trying it, like you said, good pedigree and nice to look at! Thanks!

    1. For sure, he needs a monocle too! Love his look here, aristocratic fits him and he gets to show a slightly mean streak that makes him interesting, but redeemable.

  3. I am going to have to try to get my hands on a copy of this! It sounds great and I agree with you on preferring this to Doctor Zhivago. Thanks for another terrific post…you always get me wanting to see the movie you talk about!

    1. Thanks for that compliment! I always hope to get people to try whatever sounds good to them, including ones I don’t like as much. I know you are not a Zhivago fan so I bet you’d enjoy this a lot more! Thanks!

  4. Thanks so much for taking part! Doug Jr. certainly seems to be in his element as a Russian, doesn’t he? He was the single best thing about THE RISE OF CATHERINE THE GREAT. I too will have to track this down. It would make a great double feature with THE FORTY-FIRST, in which our peasant lover takes much stiffer measures with her aristocratic lover. (She’s a sniper with forty kills. Look at the title and do the math.) Thanks for the fun review of this little-known film!

    1. He makes for a great aristocrat! He makes for a great pretty much anybody in my view. I have to see The Forty-First, sounds great! Love the romantic mingling of the classes in these pictures. Thanks for hosting this event. Best!

  5. I was a bit worried, at first, that this might be a Dr Zhivago knock-off, but was happy to see your assurance to the contrary. (I know it can’t be a knock-off when this movie pre-dates Zhivago, but I’m not taking any chances.)

    This sounds like one to watch for, especially with this cast. Thanks!

    1. “Not taking any chances” lol no, I can relate. This is the more exciting, faster, far less depressing and much better looking predecessor of Dr.Z.

  6. I also am highly appreciative of Mr. Fairbanks’ talent… and, of course, his personal appearance 😉 The first film I ever saw him in was “The Fighting O’Flynn (1949)”, and I just loved it (and him) so much. Some very happy childhood memories there.

    You make Scarlet Dawn sound (and look!) very enticing, thanks for the review (not to mention the pictures!)

    I see that it’s available for rental on youtube for only $2.99… but I’ve never used google wallet, and I’m not sure if I want too… has anyone here had any experience with it?

    1. Easiest thing I do with Google Play (which is where you’d actually rent and then view via YT) is buy myself a gift card and load up the account. They have lots of Warner Archive stuff for rent too, good way to see how you like it before committing info for wallet. I haven’t seen The Fighting O’Flynn, so I have to add that to the ever growing list! Thanks from another Fairbanks superfan

      1. Oh, thanks very much for the tip, fellow-Fairbanks-superfan;-), I like that idea! Google knows way too much about me already, I don’t need to give them my credit card info too. Though I got a laugh out of their analysis of my viewing history a while ago… according to them, I was probably a 60+ year old man. Maybe it was all those westerns? Who knows!

        “The Fighting O’Flynn” used to be shown a lot on AMC, in their good old days, but I don’t believe TCM has ever aired it. Though they’ve recently acquired “The Exile,” so maybe they’ll come up with ‘the O’Flynn’ soon as well?

        Gotta love a hero who’s so colorfully fair-minded that, when challenged by a drunken adversary to a duel, decides to make himself drunk as well so they can proceed with their duel on equal terms! O’Flynn: “I’m ready for you now… both of you.” Badguy: “And I’ll finish you… all of you!”

        1. That’s a fair and well populated bout! 🙂 good luck trying the Play store, they have some unusual titles so you’d use up a gift card easily. I guess people like us who watch oldies/westerns do not compute when they do analyses! On the upside YT’s suggest-o-matic machine offers me some neat things I never would have thought to search for.

  7. This looks like a fun film. I love the idea of such a quick pace (one of my quibbles with more recent films–what’s up w/2-hour comedies?). This line cracks me up: “a pace that skips across some major historical and personal events like a well-pitched rock on a pond.”

    1. Thanks 🙂 I too miss the days of 60-90 minute movies, so much of longer movies can be padding. I love the pre-Codes especially for the no-frills, get right to the business style. They don’t waste your time.

  8. I have to find this one. Nancy Carroll was mostly forgotten when I was a young film fan. The pre-code revival brought her back. Too bad her part wasn’t properly developed here. Thank you for sharing with all of us.

    1. Thanks for reading, Yes it was tough to develop much with the super short run time but then again I like the fast pre-code paces. She was a very interesting actress I agree.

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