Monday, February 6, 2012

The Miracle Rider

The Miracle Rider is a 1935 Mascot serial starring Tom Mix, the star of countless silent westerns in his final screen role. It's one of the longest serials ever made at over five hours and offers up a blend of genres as the then modern world is mixed with classic western elements and even some science fiction tropes get tossed in as well.

I can't say this is a particularly exciting movie as it lumbers along a bit too much to build up any actual tension but it does give the viewer some decent visuals of western action along the way. Tom Mix was in his fifties when he made this movie and it shows as he seems too old to play a convincing leading man or action hero. His face and body language both undermine the sense of virile man of action.

Mix looks okay in the saddle as he gallops along, but the moment he hits the ground the illusion is shattered as he minces along on spindly legs and he looks downright girlish when he runs. He looks to be in pain most of the time, like he needs something for gas.

Opposite Mix are some decent enough actors. Joan Gale does an okay job as Ruth, the daughter of a slain Indian leader and presumed romantic lead, though their relationship seems more surrogate father and daughter than lovers truth be told.

The henchman are a sturdy lot of pros who do what they need to do with sufficient mugging and whatnot. There are a lot of faces here who would later be mainstays in the Republic serials.

But the real pleasure in this movie is Charles Middleton as Zaroff, the mastermind who is stealing minerals from the Indians and darn proud of it. This role is pre-Ming the Merciless and Middleton is in fine fettle as he grimaces and grinds his molars to sell the sheer menace of the character. It's a pleasure in the film when he shows up and things really start moving.

The Indians are a gathering of weary cliches for the most part, and it's a bit tiresome to see them so utterly passive and having to rely on the whims of benevolent white men to save them from the villains. But it's the way things were, so there's no sense beefing about it. But it's irksome that these movie makers probably thought they were doing a good job with such things.

The movie boasts some sci-fi elements, but that's mostly a few chapters featuring "The Thunderbird" a remote-controlled flying machine which soon crashes and is out of the story, and a secret explosive mineral called X-94. There is a fancy communications machine in a wall where Zaroff gets cryptic offers for his wares from foreign enemies of peace, but it's pretty tame stuff most of the time.

Mostly this is a typical modern western with cars being used as much as horses and everyone being okay with the mix. A number of the cliffhangers are outright cheats, but then some of them are decent enough. There is only a few moments in this long serial that are repeated though, so the viewer sure gets new footage, though quite a lot of it is endless riding scenes. Some of the scenery is quite nice and some quite familiar to serial fans.

The Miracle Rider is a passably decent entertainment worth checking out for the excellent Middleton performance if for no other reason.

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