The Miracle Rider was the last film of Tom Mix and his horse Tony, Jr. (Tony Sr. had departed this earthly realm). It is a sound serial from Mascot with twice the normal Mascot budget. Mix was 55 when he made this and showing it. Although his voice was deep and suitable for sound, and he was still in good shape, Mix looked his age and was now using a stunt double for complicated stunts. Mix had made several sound films for Universal, but they fared only moderately well. Mix had officially retired and was promoting his Tom Mix circus when he was talked back to the silver screen for one last go round. It is fortunate he did. The Miracle Rider was an astounding success, making both Mix and Mascot over ten times its investment. The serial is one of the better serials of the period, too, and so Mix went out on top, dying five years later in an automobile accident. Even though Mix had been out of the public eye for five years following Miracle Rider, his death caused a large outpouring of grief. Mix’s enigmatic life, career and tragic demise are the stuff of legend.
Another slam bang, one-hour, packed oater collaboration from star Tom Mix, director Lewis Seiler and, of course, Tony the Horse. The story for The Last Trail varies only slightly from the previous year’s Great K & A Train Robbery (both available from Grapevine Video, God love ‘em). Hollywood did not argue with success, even in the 1920s.
The Great K & A Train Robbery, and movies like it, are why God invented popcorn. Tom Mix is detective Tom. Tom has been hired by Cullen (Will Walling), the President of K & A Railroad, to put a stop to a series of robberies that has a put a hurt good to his business. Unknown to Tom and Cullen, it is the president’s secretary, the dastardly mustachioed Holt (Carl Miller) that has been tipping off the robbers and is in cahoots with them.
Tom must disguise himself as a masked bandit. Even Cullen does not know Tom’s secret identity! This is a mile-a-second silent oater that’s certain to burn some brain cells, but it’s a helluva lot safer than illegal substances, and a lot more fun too.
The opening shot of Tom as he descends upside down a rope over a raging river in Royal George of Colorado is a thrill a second as he finally lands right onto the back of Tony the horse. The scene sets the tone for the whole movie, which director Lewis Seiler keeps moving at a break-neck pace.
The corny dialogue is priceless too. Tom tells his comedy relief assistant Deluxe Harry (played by Harry Grip), ” I’m trailin’ train robbers for Cullen, president of the K & A–but he doesn’t know it! I just learned his secretary is one of the crooks and that’s why I am keeping a secret identity!”
Of course, there is a beautiful girl, Madge (Dorothy Dwan) who is the daughter of Mr. Cullen. She is resisting Daddy’s efforts to get her engaged to his man, Holt. Never fear, Tom is going to save the day and get the girl. Mr. Mix bounces off the walls. Remarkably, he was 46 years old in this film. Tom, doing all of his own stunts, prevents desperadoes from kidnapping the heroine by pulling her off a runaway carriage and on to his horse Tony, runs atop a locomotive, then hides from the bad guys underneath the speeding train, and all that within the first fifteen minutes. Later, Tom and Tony jump from a two story window into a pool below, Tom engages in fisticuffs aplenty atop the railroad cars in a dark tunnel, and defeats the entire gang barehanded when he discovers the gang’s underground cavern (which looks like something out of the Phantom of the Opera’s lair). Indiana Jones has nothing on this guy.
There is embarrassing stereotyped comedy relief with an African American K & A employee, named Snowball, but it’s mercifully brief. Harry provides the bulk of the comedy relief, which is slightly less painful.
Still, it is a crammed 60 minutes. I resisted temptation and went with the buttered light popcorn. I probably should have indulged.
Born in 1880, Mix had worked with the Texas Rangers, had been a bartender, a sheriff, and a champion rodeo rider in his Wild West Show. Hollywood had a bona fide true blue western legend. After becoming THE cowboy movie star at the age of 30, the extremely prolific Mix worked and played equally hard, developing a love for fast cars, fast women (married five times) , and reckless spending. Most of his 20′s westerns were adapted from Zane Grey novels and were high quality entertainment for the masses. Mix often wrote, produced and directed in addition to acting. He was the polar opposite to William S. Hart’s dusty realism. Mix combined humor, increased action which featured his own stunt work, a star horse named Tony, flashy showmanship and enthusiastic energy in his films. When his stardom naturally began to dim in the 1930′s, mainly due to age, he toured with his beloved Tom Mix Circus before an untimely high speed auto accident and a flying metal suitcase to the back of the head on an Arizona highway put an end to all the Circus in 1940, but not to the legend. For ten years after his death, the Tom Mix Radio Show continued on with immense popularity.
Tom Mix comic books were also extremely popular for several decades, as was the touring Tom Mix festival which finally ran down (but not entirely out) in the mid 90′s. Since most of his films are silent, few today have even seen a Tom Mix film, and his reputation by far exceeds the actual films. Here are two Mixs from Sinister Cinema’s Sinister Six-Gun collection.