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Category:    Home > Reviews > Serial > Western > Adventure > Tom Mix - The Miracle Rider (Serial)

Tom Mix – The Miracle Rider (Serial)


Picture: C     Sound: C     Extras: D     Chapters: B-



The Mascot Studios (a precursor to Republic Pictures) went all out when they put Cowboy star Tom Mix (who had been a hit in silent films for years) when they put him in his first movie serial, The Miracle Rider (1935).  Mascot boldly combined MGM and RKO logos by having a Tiger (instead of a Lion) growling, while on a spinning globe (RKO had a radio tower on their globe).  Amusing as that is, it also shows the ambition of the company, down to the unusual step of having the first chapter run nearly 45 minutes.  That is highly unusual.  Most first chapters run 25 – 30 minutes.


Mix plays Tom Morgan, who finds himself in the middle of the crazy plot involving the mining of the valuable X-94, a substance with extremely valuable military applications.  Charles Middleton is Zaroff, the villain trying to steal lands, control X-94 (sounds more like a radio station at that) and ruin lives.  Middleton later became legendary at Universal when he went on to play Ming The Merciless in the three Flash Gordon serials.  Even more surprising, the legendary actor Jason Robards is here in an early role as his assistant Carlton.  Seeing Robards is especially entertaining.


Co-Directors Armand Schaefer and B. Reeves Eason take the John Rathmell screenplay adaptation of the Barney Sarecky/Wellyn Totman/Gerald Geraghty story and run with it.  Overall, it is not bad at all, keeping the kind of constant pace the tale needs.  Without overdoing the technology, a little Science Fiction is thrown into the Action/Adventure tale with touches of The Western for good measure.  Mascot tried to throw in everything and managed to make this work.  The problems include the politically incorrect and racist treatment of Native Americans (so easily sacred by a futuristic ship that they mistake for a bird spirit of some kind) and it generally cannot escape the old Hollywood trappings.


An early seen has Morgan with “The Indians” of whom are all his friends.  They give him the title name, but before you can say Dances With Wolves, he’s off taking on evil plots and death-defying situations.  The early serials tend to have some of the best pacing and Miracle Rider belongs in that league.  It may seem like an unusual mix, but it is not as pretentious as it sounds and when it comes to offering the kinds of cliffhangers that inspired the likes of Indiana Jones, it is one of the true originals.


The full frame image varies in quality throughout, lucky to survive at all after 70 years, but it is well shot by co-cinematographers Ernest Miller and William Nobles and always pleasant to watch.  There is softness in the poorer footage and unusual damage at times, but it still is watchable despite those obstacles.  Legendary film director to be Joseph H. Lewis was the supervising editor and based on later films like his classic Gun Crazy (1949) and some of his pacing can be felt in this work.  It

is amazing all around that a small company got this much talent together, making this a one-of-a-kind experience.


The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono has the usual background noise, distortion and age you would expect from such an old production, but there are also patches of other distortion here and there that get in the way.  The sound source sounds well-transferred, but only so much can be done when the prints are this old.  They did their best.  The only extras are trailers to four other serials VCI is offering or about to offer, a bio/filmography on Mix and a photo gallery set to music.


Mix is a good hero and he was doing many of his own stunts.  The appeal is clear and the camera liked him enough.  When it comes to serials Miracle Rider is one of the original everyone who likes this kind of fun should check out.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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