Other Cowboy Stars – Tom Tyler in “Phantom of the Range”
October 1, 2009
The rumor that “Law of the Northwest” would be playing on TCM this month has turned out to be false. Alas. In place of a review of that “lost” Durango Kid film, I present another mind-bending (time-wasting?) chapter in the saga of my attempt to discover what the other B-Western stars were doing in 1935, the year that Charles Starrett began his cowboy star career.
Tom Tyler was chasing the “Phantom of the Range” in this Victory Pictures production.
The titular character wears a white slicker and pretends to be a ghost, riding around at night to keep snooping eyes from discovering what the bad guys are up to at old Hiram Moore’s place. They are looking for the dead coot’s buried treasure. Moore’s pretty daughter catches Tom’s eye, so he buys the estate and they join the search for the loot. The plot features an auction, a map in an old painting, some fights and some riding. Tom has his own sidekick, a thin gay British Smiley, if you can picture that.
I enjoyed this film, but, boy is it a cheapo. I’ve written before about poverty row, but this is so cheap. A lot of the dialogue is ADR and some scenes are shot in weird panning close-ups, in the style of primitive sit-coms. On the plus-side, it features some great locations in Lone Pine, and the like-able characters are actually very like-able.
I had a realization watching this film that is a testament to how little I knew about the B-Western genre when I began this project. It’s amazing that it has taken this long for me to recognize that Charles, at least stacked up against his contemporaries, was a real cutey pie.
I mean, no one is going to mistake Hoot Gibson or Wild Bill Eliot for eye-candy. Gene Autry has a goofy boy next door sort of look. Tim McCoy and William S. Hart are odd. Tom Mix has a good head of hair, as does Ken Maynard, but you wouldn’t call either of them matinee idols.
In fact, I can’t think of any other cowboy star of Charles’ day who started their career playing pretty boys (“Desirable” and “Royal Family of Broadway“) or hunks (“Fast and Loose” and “Jungle Bride“). Can you imagine any of the others shirtless and being whipped by Myrna Loy as Charles was in “Mask of Fu Manchu“? Johnny Mack Brown? C’mon!
And then there’s Tom Tyler.
Tom Tyler is an adequate cowboy hero in this picture, and he should be. He had been playing variations on this role since 1926. He’s thin and wears a broad black hat. A handsome guy, but surprisingly ethnic for a cowboy star (Tom’s birth-name was Vincent Markowski and he was of Lithuanian descent.) With his jet black, slicked back hair and long face, he seems more suited to playing thugs in organized crime movies.
He reminds me of Henry Silva.