Tom Mix – The Miracle Rider (Serial)
C Sound: C Extras: D Chapters: B-
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
amazing all around that a small company got this much talent together, making this
a one-of-a-kind experience.
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