21 December 2004 | stevehaynie
Tom Mix ended his movie career in a top-notch serial!
Daniel Boone, Davey Crockett, Buffalo Bill, the Texas Rangers, Tom Mix, and a whole bunch of Indians in the first chapter! Golly gee! It just doesn't get any better than this! Tom Mix was one of the top cowboy stars of all time for a reason. He looked good on film. Even though his career was rooted in the silent era, he made a few film appearances in the early days of sound. In The Miracle Rider Tom Mix speaks like a cowboy, as in he really did not have a great Hollywood leading man's articulation and tone. His voice was deep and strong, but he spoke in a direct, matter-of-fact way that was befitting of a cowboy. Mix knew how to play to the camera, and always commanded attention when he was in a scene. By the time The Miracle Rider was made Mix was in his 50's, but unlike the younger silent star, Ken Maynard, Mix was not noticeably overweight as he got older. This serial is an excellent example of Tom Mix' work.
The Miracle Rider starts off with historic American figures vowing to respect and honor Indians when white men chose to encroach upon Indian land. The build-up leads to young Tom Morgan's father, a Texas Ranger, dying as he fights to protect the Ravenhead Indians from would-be interlopers. As the elder Morgan is dying, he tells his son, Tom, to continue to protect the Ravenheads. When the adult Tom Morgan appears, we see Tom Mix in the role. From there the story unfolds in a present-day western setting.
Tom Morgan is made a chief among the Ravenheads and is given the name, "The Miracle Rider" by Chief Black Wing. An evil oil man named Zaroff secretly mines a highly explosive ore used for munitions and energy, X-94, on the Ravenhead Reservation. Zaroff is determined to scare the Ravenheads so they will ask to have their reservation moved to another location. Black Wing is murdered to discourage the Indians from staying on the reservation. In the early chapters Zaroff uses the "Firebird." The Firebird is a whirring, remote controlled glider that flies over the reservation. The Firebird is much simpler than "The Wing", the flying machine used in later Republic serials, but it is still effective in moving the plot along. Zaroff also employees, Longboat, an ambitious Ravenhead who hopes to become chief of the Ravenhead Nation. Longboat tries to convince the Ravenheads that the Thunderbird is evil, so they must move. Conveniently, a local businessman named Janss has land next to the Ravenhead Reservation that he is willing to sell to the government for use as a new reservation. Zaroff employees several people to do his dirty work while he is making a deal with the unseen "Leon" for shipments of X-94. For 15 chapters Tom Morgan has to find out who is trying to move the Ravenheads from their land and why.
Tom Mix relies on his horse, Tony Jr., more than once during The Miracle Rider's 15 chapters. Mix also uses his rope as much as his gun in some chapters. Charles King plays an almost nameless thug on Zaroff's payroll. Any western with Charles King as a bad guy has to be good just because it has Charles King in it.
The Ravenhead Indians are overly superstitious and easily frightened. This is far too obvious, even as an element to move the story along. On the other hand, the costumes worn by the Ravenheads are excellent. They wore beautiful feathered and beaded clothing! The "Indian" look was well presented. Today, such fine leather and bead-work is expensive to purchase and hard to find.
Mascot Pictures was soon to be folded into Republic Pictures when The Miracle Rider was made. Under Nat Levine, Mascot developed a formula for serials that Republic would use for years. In one sitting, a serial can seem to wander pointlessly with too many plot changes. You have to love the serial format. When viewed over time in single or double chapter installments, The Miracle Rider comes across as a top-notch serial. For a final movie, Tom Mix went out on a high note. The Miracle Rider is everything you would expect from a legend like Tom Mix.