Ken Maynard in “Phantom Thunderbolt”

May 28, 2013

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Readers of this site are well aware that I am down with any Western featuring the word “Phantom” in its title.  And I loves me some Ken Maynard, so this is a double hit.

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Ken plays “The Thunderbolt Kid” in a film made in 1933 and set in an indeterminate time period (no cars, plenty of telephones, the railroad is coming).  The film starts with his side-kick riding into town before him and, never explained, telling everyone that he’s a bad guy so that when Ken shows up, everyone is scared of him.  Hilarity ensues.  Not really, but some fighting and falling in love and Ken is asked by the town elders to clean up the town.

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This is essentially a comic farce which is neither my favorite form of Western or Ken Maynard’s forte.

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He’s fine in this but I prefer my Maynard with the weight of the world on his shoulders.  I think it suits him best.

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There’s no real in-film reason for Maynard’s character to be called “Phantom Thunderbolt” or “Mr. Phantom Thunderbolt” as a bad guy mockingly calls him.   There is no phantom-like behavior here as is in evidence in his “Phantom Rancher.”

It’s sort of like Rex Allen and his “Arizona Cowboy” moniker.  These poverty row studios seem so mad to have a series or a trademark character that they stuck names on cowboy stars like tin badges out of a cereal box.  No disrespect for the hard-working and creative souls who made these entertaining films out of nothing.  It’s just hard to unravel looking back from a distance of 80 years.

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