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Tom Mix.TOM MIX
Ratings: Zero to 4 Stars.

DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (‘32 Universal) By the end of the silent era Tom Mix, nearing 50, figured his movie career was over. He accepted an offer to tour as the star of the Sells-Floto Wild West Show at $10,000 a week. This continued til 1932 when Universal lured the star back to Hollywood for a series of nine Westerns that would pay him a similar salary, each to be budgeted around $100,000 but it’s pretty standard stuff as the biggest silent Western star of all time returns to the screen in his first talkie. Pre-publicity played it up big. After making a grand entrance on Tony, Tom is framed for murder by his partner, Earle Fox, in cahoots with crooked sheriff Stanley Fields who is running against Mix in an election for sheriff. After a year in jail, Tom vows revenge.

"Destry Rides Again" starring Tom Mix.

RIDER OF DEATH VALLEY (‘32 Universal) Youngster Edith Fellows’ father is shot after he discovers gold in Death Valley. On his death bed, Edith’s trusting father hands over a map to the mine to Doctor Forrest Stanley and his sleazy roughneck friend Fred Kohler, telling them it should go to his sister, Lois Wilson, who is coming west and will care for Edith. Befriending Edith, and distrusting Stanley and Kohler for the scalawags they are, Tom tears the map into three pieces, one for himself and the other two to them until Edith’s Aunt arrives, at which time Tom agrees to guide the party through Death Valley to locate the mine. On the treacherous, arduous trek, friction among the group grows until the desire for water and life outweighs the desire for gold. Some splendid desert photography, but it’s not enough to save this overlong adventure.

Lobby card for "The Rider of Death Valley" starring Tom Mix.

TEXAS BADMAN (‘32 Universal) Mix is called on by the Texas Rangers to round up an outlaw outfit terrorizing the countryside and hiding out across the border so he poses as an outlaw to get in with the gang headed up by supposedly law abiding citizen Willard Robertson who suffers from a Napoleonic complex, delegating duties to henchmen Fred Kohler and Robert E. Milash and oriental manservant Tetsu Komai. Complications set in when Tom falls for Lucille Powers, Robertson’s sister. Following a promising start, the picture sags midway but is followed by a strong finish.

Lobby card for "The Texas Bad Man" starring Tom Mix.

MY PAL THE KING (‘32 Universal) Pure old fashioned melodrama! And pure fun. It’s a charming and different type of Western as Tom instills in kid King Mickey Rooney the idea of “life, liberty and happiness”. The last 15 minutes is old-fashioned high adventure as Tom and his Wild West Show riders storm the castle to rescue the 10 year old boy-king of Alvonia and his doctor protector who have been kidnapped by evil Count James Kirkwood and are being put to death by drowning in a flooded dungeon.

Poster for Tom Mix in "My Pal, the King".

FOURTH HORSEMAN (‘32 Universal) Beginning with a skillfully filmed nighttime train robbery sequence and a spooky ghost town, this is one of the better of the nine talkies Mix made for Universal. Discovering water is coming to the valley, outlaw cheat Fred Kohler Sr. plans to buy the whole town for back taxes, gyping feisty Margaret Lindsay out of her rightful inheritance.

Tom Mix crosses guns with Margaret Lindsay in this publicity shot for "Fourth Horseman".

HIDDEN GOLD (‘32 Universal) More like a big city crime drama as Tom goes to prison, posing as a crook, to get in with some bank robbers (Donald Kirke, Eddie Gribbon, Raymond Hatton) and recover the loot they hid before they were captured.

Poster for "Hidden Gold" starring Tom Mix.

TERROR TRAIL (‘33 Universal) Governor’s man Mix brings to justice a gang of cutthroats and thieves known as the Paint Horse Riders. The girl is Naomi Judge whose brother, wimpy Arthur Rankin, is in with the gang. Their presence along with weak villainy from John St. Polis sets this one back a pace or two. Incorporates a few comedic moments so typical of Tom’s silents—such as when he is awakened one night and wears two guns into the saloon—but forgets to put on his pants. A humorous piece later cowboys like Starrett, Brown, Holt, Livingston, Lane etc. could never get away with.

Newspaper ad for Tom Mix in "Terror Trail".

ZERO FLAMING GUNS (‘32 Universal) Split between light comedy/romance and Western action, as many of Mix’s silents had been, this misfire ends up being neither. All the action, such as it is, is over midway through the film after Tom captures rustler Duke Lee. Ranch owner William Farnum gets as much screen time—if not more—than Mix. This is a remake of Hoot Gibson’s “Buckaroo Kid” (‘26).

Poster for Tom Mix in "Flaming Guns".

RUSTLER’S ROUNDUP (‘33 Universal) The last of Mix’s nine sound Westerns. VARIETY reported director Henry MacRae was ordered by Universal to “turn out a Western of the old fashioned type with nothing but time-tried range stuff, minus any of the non-sagebrush frills which have crept into (Tom’s) recent horse operas.” Tom plays a masked Black Bandit mistaken for an outlaw who is really trying to save Diane Sinclair and her brother Noah Beery Jr.’s ranch from the clutches of Sinclair’s evil rustler foreman, Douglas Dumbrille, and his partner, one-time silent star Roy Stewart. Other old-timers are present also—Pee Wee Holmes as Tom’s comic friend and William Desmond as the sheriff, along with star-to-be Walter Brennan as a stagecoach passenger/later barkeep.

Title Card for Tom Mix in "The Rustler' Round-Up".

Newspaper ad for Tom Mix in "The Miracle Rider". MIRACLE RIDER, THE (‘35 Mascot) Mascot head Nat Levine lured the 55 year old cowboy back for one last fling at stardom in ‘35 for his “Miracle Rider” super-serial which cost a whopping $80,000 to produce as opposed to Mascot’s usual $30-$40,000 production cost for a serial. Tom was paid $10,000 a week for four week’s work (half the budget right there) in Mascot’s only 15 chapter serial. Tom took the assignment figuring the 15 weeks of exposure would help renew interest in his Tom Mix Circus venture. Mascot’s gamble paid off. Accustomed to 8 or 9 thousand bookings for their serials, Levine saw Mix and “Miracle Rider” leap to better than 12,000 bookings, eventually grossing over $1,000,000. Tom ended his film career a winner!

In 1912 a young Mix’s screen father, Texas Ranger Pat O’Malley, is killed trying to protect Indian land. It’s this wanton act of murder that leads Tom to become a Texas Ranger as an adult when our plot begins in ‘35. Like their “Phantom Empire”, Mascot combined the Old West with modern-day cars, trucks, and sci-fi elements including a radio controlled robot glider, The Firebird, and a miracle explosive, X-94. It’s the powerful X-94 that drives the simplistic storyline for 15 chapters as devious oilman Zaroff (Charles Middleton) and his underlings attempt to drive the Ravenhead Indian Tribe off their reservation so Zaroff can mine the rich deposits of X-94 and become “the most powerful man in the world.” Tom becomes involved in Ch. 1, helping Ravenhead maiden Joan Gale when her Chieftain father (Robert Frazer) is murdered. Middleton is assisted by half-breed Bob Kortman, who aspires to be chief; right-hand man Jason Robards, chemist Niles Welch (misspelled Welsh); trading post owner Edward Hearn and his flunkie Ernie Adams; and range rats Max Wagner, Ed Cobb, Charlie King, Stanley Price, Forrest Taylor, Tom London and George Chesebro. To the serial’s detriment, many of the chapter cliffhangers are unspectacular, being nothing more than Tom being shot at or falling from his horse. Additionally, there are far too many cheat endings and resolutions. However, these faults aside, just seeing “the grand old man of Westerns”—Tom Mix—astride Tony Jr. in action for 15 chapters (with an excellent supporting cast) is enough to recommend this serial.

 

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