THE MIRACLE RIDER (1935)

   Tom Mix, B. Reeves Eason, Armand Schaefer (directors)
   This 15-chapter serial was Tom Mix’s last film and is the one upon which most of his reputation is based since it is one of the few accessible Mix films left. Like Gene Autry’s The Phantom Empire from the same year, this is a science-fiction Western. The first chapter begins with early settlement and the westward movement and the turmoils with Indians. Eventually the action is brought up to the present day, the 1930s, and the subject is the whites displacing Indians from a reservation. The evil Zaroff needs to run the Indians off the Texas reservation so he can mine the miracle element X-94, which will transform warfare. The serial is replete with an evil scientist in a laboratory; remote controlled, unmanned aircraft; hidden telephones; and plenty of gadgetry. Typical of serials, every chapter ends with Tom Morgan (Mix) in some sort of inescapable dilemma, and only in the next chapter does the audience learn how he escaped or helped a supporting character escape. For example, in one chapter, Tom wrestles an oil truck (actually containing the highly explosive X-94) from the evil Indian imposter driver. While driving down the mountain road, the brakes give out and the truck goes over the cliff and explodes. Thus, the chapter ends and the audience thinks Tom was killed. But the next week, the story backs up a minute, and we see Tom jump from the truck at the last second. In another chapter, Tom enters a cave hiding the remotepowered Firebird air ship. Afight ensues. Tom falls into cockpit unconscious and Zaroff runs to the control panel, sends the Firebird up to a high altitude, and then throws it into a steep nosedive. The Firebird crashes in a ball of fire with Tom inside. End of chapter. But the next week, the film again starts a few minutes back. At the last second, Tom awakes, finds a parachute, and jumps. He gets tangled in a tree so he whistles to Tony Jr. Along comes the horse, and Tom cuts the ropes and falls into Tony’s saddle. This is only one of many times in which Tony Jr. saves Tom.
   The serial shows Mix’s persona at its best. The cowboy is a stylish dresser and a dapper ladies’man, a Texas Ranger and friend to the Indians (all played by whites, evidently), but he also is an impish cowboy, still a kid in many ways. At one point he is tempted to steal a pie cooling outside a kitchen window.
   See also COSTUMES; INDIANS.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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