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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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As faithful readers know, I’m a sucker for any western with the word “phantom” in it.

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A horror western?  Naw.  Someone plugs old man Markham and Ken Mitchell (guess who?) takes an interest.

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What’s a fellah to do, if not put on a black mask?

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The year was 1938.  Right around the same time that another man destined to wear a mask climbed into the cinematic saddle.

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Starrett.  Charles Starrett.

We all know what Charles Starrett was doing in 1934.  He was preparing to don a cowboy hat on screen for the first time in “Gallant Defender.”  He’d never be far from one for the rest of his career.

Eight years Charles’ senior, Ken Maynard was resurrecting his own career over at Mascot.  After being let go by Universal, Ken had returned to rodeo for a few years.  Now he was shooting the 12 part serial “Mystery Mountain” at Iverson Ranch and Bronson Canyon.

The plot involves a mysterious crook named “The Rattler” who is stirring up trouble between the railroad men and the stagecoach men.  Ken Maynard plays Ken Williams, Detective for the railroad company.

Maynard is an interesting cowboy star.  He’s good looking with dark, slicked down hair.  He wears a black embroidered western shirt and a colored scarf.  He sports two pearl-handled pistols.  He’s got a very well trained horse named “Tarzan” who can do great stunts and other cool stuff like lie down on command.

He uses a lasso a lot.  Charles never used a lasso.  What’s up with that?

Maynard did a lot of his own stunts and was an expert horseman.  It shows.   Pretty exciting stuff (though they do speed up the action a fair amount at times.)

Ken also has a thick accent – Indiana.  He has a folksy manner and adds some nice authetic touches, like calming his horse during a stand-off with outlaws.

There’s an easy way about him — an easy smile and an easy manner.  This is in contrast to the off-screen Maynard, as illustrated by  the well-known stories about his ego and the ugly drunken tantrums he would throw on set.

When this film wrapped, Ken headed over the Columbia.  He made eight films there, starting with 1935’s “Western Frontier.”  I imagine he bumped into Charley a fair amount during those two years.  I wonder what Charley thought of Ken’s mean and drunken ways.  CS seems like such a gentleman and a generous soul, he must have been very popular with his crew.

Final thought: Ken Maynard mainly played characters named “Ken”.  This business is starting to look like a trend.  Tim McCoy is “Tim”, Bill Elliot is generally “Bill” or “Wild Bill”, Johnny Mack Brown is “Johnny”, Gene is “Gene”, Smiley is “Smiley”, etc.

What’s up with “Steve?”  Something wrong with the name “Charles”?