Good Old Tom Tyler

January 16, 2014

A villain this time.ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

— San Antonio, 1945

Sam Fuller went and made himself a B-Western.  It was in 1949 and John Ireland rocked it.  John Ireland = awesome.  And such a great film.  Unlike Andrew Dominik’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” where the film builds towards Jesse’s murder and his death scene happens near the end of the picture, Robert Ford (Ireland) plugs Jesse in the first reel, and spends the rest of the film dealing with it.

Fuller worked within genres, making genre films, but never the standard fare, and this one sports a narrative structure that is odd and refreshing and winding and disjointed and at 81 minutes feels like an epic.   It’s hard to know how it’s going to end…

…until Tom Tyler shows up at minute 73 of that 81.

Here comes the avenging figure of Tom Tyler as Frank James!

But no, he’s barely there for three lines of dialogue before he gets the knock-out punch from Preston Foster.

In an almost immediate twist, he’s acquitted and lays one heavy heavy line on Bob Ford.  “I don’t have to kill you.  But I’m going to tell you something that will kill you.  You’re aiming to marry Cynthy.  When you put your lips up close to hers, she’ll be kissing you but she’ll be thinking of Kelley.   It’s you she’s sorry for but it’s him she wants.”

And with that, he backs out of the saloon and out of the picture.

Total screen time.  Under three minutes.

Love these cowboy stars and their later roles.  So satisfying knowing that Tyler was the veteran of over 140 films at the time of this brief but rich appearance, many of them as the lead.

(I did mention that John Ireland was awesome in this, didn’t I?)

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.

Courtesy of the Lone Pine Museum

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

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.

henry-silva