October 7, 2008
The posters for this Mascot film read “The Foremost Western Star in Motion Pictures” and continue with “Tom Mix, Idol of Every Boy in the World!”
This serial starts with a series of vignettes illustrating the expansion of the West and the mistreatment of the Indians. First in 1777 with Daniel Boone, then 1825 with Davey Crockett, then 1877 with Buffalo Bill — these great men preach respect for the Indians and are ignored by white jerks who are subsequently killed (including Dick Curtis in a brief cameo.)
The montage takes us to 1912, where Tom Mix, er Tom Morgan cradles his father’s head as he dies, the latest victim of disrepectful white jerks. He makes Tom promise to become a Texas Ranger and protect the red man.
Cut to the modern day, 1935, where Tom (who’s looking really old for someone in his early 30s) has fulfilled that promise. He keeps the Indians safe from white jerks who try to steal their payroll and so forth.
But there’s a new threat to Tom’s charges. X-94 has been discovered under the Ravenswood Reservation. White businessmen and scientists need to scare off the Indians so they can mine this stuff, the most deadly explosive of all time. To this end, they use gadgets like phones hidden inside caves and under piles of rock, a raygun that burns macrame from a great distance, and a rocket glider the Indians call “The Firebird.”
Yes, science fiction meets B-Western (or is it C-Western?) once again in 1935. “The Miracle Rider” joins “The Phantom Empire”, where Gene Autry fights an underground race, and “Ghost Patrol”, where Tim McCoy fights some science guys with a lot of cool equipment.
It’s interesting to me that Charles Starrett’s cowboy stardom was born at the exact same moment that some folks were definitely thinking that the genre needed alot of help, needed an injection of science-fiction nonsense to turn it into some sort of hybrid sci-fi/western genre.
I guess Charles’ longevity in the saddle proved these folks wrong. The western didn’t need some crazy rescue scheme. It just needed to lower its expectations a little. Or alot, depending on how you look at it.
How’s Mix at 55? He does some good riding stunts for a man his age, but…let’s put it this way: when he talks to Tony Jr., he comes off like an old geezer muttering to himself as he waits for the bus.
This was his last film. He died 5 years later.
September 25, 2008
In “The Great K & A Train Robbery”, we meet Tom Gordon hanging from a rope, a thousand feet above a gorge. Tom Mix regularly does this sort of thing: he rides a horse at a gallop across a thin railroad tressle, he clings from a mining bucket over a raging river, he leaps from his saddle onto a fast-moving train.
He’s more Indiana Jones than Durango Kid.
Charles Starrett doesn’t do impossible stunts. And that’s not just because of the budget, his are a different sort of films.
In “Great K & A Train Robbery”, Tom Mix has a secret identity and he wears a black mask, which provides a nifty jumping off point to a discussion of the differences between him and Charles.
Charley’s masked man, DK, is intense, deadly-serious and humorless — as Charles put it, he’s a “superhero who puts the fear of God in the hearts of bad men, and everyone else. He was so good, so concise in everything that he did, in his movements, perhaps even in the staccato of his voice.” (see “Charles on Steve” blog entry.) As we’ve discussed before, this secret identity differs so slightly from “Steve” (Charles’ real identity) that it’s often laughable that he bothers putting on the mask.
On the other hand, Mix’s alter-ego is a bon-vivant. He’s a show-off, doing everything he does with a lot of style and wit. From what I understand about Mix, this was very close the man in real life – with his women, his flash, his high-living.
Mix is very light on his feet, very agile, he moves like a dancer. He’s sort of funny-looking, like a cartoon of Barney Miller. He seems shorter than his purported six feet. He’s got dark hair. He might be considered Starrett’s physical opposite in many ways.
Actually, the villain in this piece is the sort of character which Charley used to play in his pre-Western days — dapper, refined, rival to the hero for the gal’s hand, described in the cards here as “if he’s a college man, it’s Vassar.” (Enough of your Vassar bashing, Mr. Mix!)
One last note, since my mind is on horses after my visit to the site of Fat Jones Stable: Tony is a featured character in these films, unlike Charley’s horses. In fact, Tony has twice the personality of Raider and Bullet put together.