Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Polish titles of Tom Tyler films

"A Rider of the Plains" cinema ad
It seems only natural to have an entry just for Polish titles of Tom's movies, given his Polish-Lithuanian background. Most of his films did in fact appear in Poland, usually a few years after their initial release here in the United States. As it goes with title translations, sometimes one pops up that looks somewhat unusual, as in the case of one Polish title: “Szatański Cowboy”. For some people, a Google translation is hardly needed, for its literal meaning is “Satanic Cowboy” and briefly described as an early talkie, according to Polona. As bizarre and humorous as this sounds for a Tom Tyler 1930's western, this movie is most likely “A Rider of the Plains” (1931) because the plot is about an outlaw cowboy named Blackie Saunders (Tom) whose friend is a pastor, Jim Wallace (Ted Adams). Jim was a former member of Blackie's gang before he went straight. Tom's all-black outfit plus the hat helped in this particular role, which he turns in an outstanding performance. With thanks to Biblioteki Narodowej and Filmweb for the Polish titles of the following Tom Tyler movies:


"Stagecoach"
1920's

The Wyoming Wildcat (1925) – Król cowboy'ów i maly bohater
'Neath Western Skies (1929) – Walka o diamenty
The Phantom Rider (1929) – Jeździec widmo
Pioneers of the West (1929) – Pionierzy zachodu

1930's

A Rider of the Plains (1931) – Szatański cowboy
Two Fisted Justice (1931) –  Pod szubienicą
The Man from New Mexico (1932) – Postrach Meksyku
Vanishing Men (1932) – Przyjaźń w obliczu śmierci
Honor of the Mounted (1932) – Tajemnica zamkniętego kufra
Stagecoach (1939) –  Dyliƶans
The Night Riders (1939) – Nocni jeźdźcy
Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) – Bębny nad Mohawkiem
Frontier Marshal (1939) – Szeryf z pogranicza


"Red River"
1940's

Brother Orchid (1940) – Orchid, brat gangstera
The Westerner (1940) – Człowiek z zachodu
The Talk of the Town (1942) – Głosy miasta
The Princess and the Pirate (1944) –Księżniczka i Pirat
Never Say Goodbye (1946) – Nigdy nie mów do widzenia
Blood on the Moon (1948) – Krwawy księżyc
Red River (1948) – Rzeka Czerwona
I Shot Jesse James (1949) – Zabiłem Jessego Jamesa
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) – Nosiła żółtą wstążkę

1950'S

Best of the Badmen (1951) –Najlepszy z najgorszych


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Tom Tyler's eyes: The mirror to the soul

Some of the most popular actors in Hollywood can be identified just by a picture of their eyes. In Hollywood, many times an actor's acting ability can be told how they use their eyes especially when it comes to conveying emotions and unspoken words. Tom Tyler certainly knew how to use his eyes when it came to acting, no doubt the result of many hours practice when he took correspondence lessons in acting.

In “The Mummy's Hand” (1940), Tom's eyes were “blacked out” using a camera technique in some scenes to make him seem even more frightening. On film, this technique made his eyes seem to “gel” and shine unnaturally, just like a real monster brought back to life after being dead for many centuries.

In “Stagecoach” (1939) when he saunters up to the bar and turns in the film's top acting performance, Tom looks around nervously, as he awaits the arrival of the Ringo Kid (John Wayne) to have a showdown with. Tom does not have any trouble making direct eye contact with the camera when the script calls for it, as he did in “San Antonio” (1945) when he is standing outside the saloon, getting ready to take on Errol Flynn in a gunslinging match. Perhaps the best close-up of Tom's eyes is in “The Silver Bullet” (1935), when he is in the saloon ready to reprimand an outlaw. With his right eyebrow slightly raised, Tom's eyes shine like discs, with
the light hitting his face at just the right angle. It is a vicious, authoritarian stare made at the outlaw, who then makes the wise decision to turn himself in to Tom's newly appointed authority as the town's sheriff. Such a camera shot makes this movie a favorite among Tom's fans, in addition to its bittersweet story of a blind man seeking justice by learning how to shoot a gun.

Tom Tyler's brown eyes were perfect for silent film, to be sure, and even better for the talkies he made during the 1930's, and the color films he made in the 1940's before he fell ill with scleroderma. More than one publicity photo show Tom's eyes sparkling, full of life and light, eyes that could tell the story of his journey to Hollywood from Hamtramck, Michigan. Eyes that not only acted well, but also could hold the beholder spellbound, speak of an era long gone yet cherished and held close to the heart.


Born in the dust and cradled in the dark,
It feels the fire of an immortal spark,
And learns to read, with patient, searching eyes,
The splendid secret of the unconscious skies.

- H. Van Dyke








Friday, February 9, 2018

Acting Dangerously: Tom Tyler the stuntman

FBO, like other small film production outfits during the 1920's, had its stars performing dangerous stunts without the benefit of using professional stuntmen. With Tom Tyler being young, athletic and muscular, he could certainly pull off any stunts required of him in a film script. Sometimes Tom also had to protect co-stars placed in the same situation that he was in, keeping them safe from being killed on the set. Perhaps it was a feeling of invincibility on Tom's part – as any young man might feel, having traveled such a long way from home to  the destination of where his future lay, ready to conquer Hollywood and anything it handed him. He certainly was not afraid to perform these stunts, even though the first few ones came very close to costing him his life.

It was in Tom's debut starring role of “Let's Go Gallagher” in 1925 where he completes his first rescue mission, releasing Frankie Darro and his dog Beans who were tied to a train track by a gang of outlaws. In this case, it was Tom's horseback riding skills of a speedy pace that made this rescue possible. Yet this was just a precursor to a greater rescue later on in the film, where Tom also had to rescue the heroine (Barbara Starr) who was stuck on a runaway carriage, headed down the steep grade of a mountainside. Once again speed and precision played an important role, and Tom in all his grandeur rescues the frightened girl from getting killed, and establishes him as a major film star of athletic capability.

The theme of having to rescue a girl from a perilous situation, usually involving a cliff, followed in the next few Tom Tyler films made for FBO. For example, in “The Wyoming Wildcat” (1925), Tom makes a daring rescue while on horseback, leaping off the top of a cliff while remaining on his horse, plunging into a whirlpool of water below, to save Virginia Southern from drowning. It is not difficult to imagine the audience's reaction when viewing this silent film for the first time in movie theatres. But Tom's early silent films were meant to be fun, entertaining, adventurous, and hold the viewer spellbound all at once. Since 1925 was the year Tom became a star, a leading man for FBO, it was only natural for his publicists to market him as being one of the most exciting actors that year – and he was!

Can you imagine having to experience almost getting killed while shooting a scene – then having to reshoot the scene with better safety measures in place? That is what happened in “The Cowboy Musketeer” (1925). In this silent film, Tom is ambling along on horseback when he happens to glance off to the side of the trail and sees Frances Dare stuck in her car, tangled up in a collapsing rickety wood bridge, and races to catch her before she falls into the water. While they are suspended from Tom's lariat, tied to his horse's saddle, somehow the rope comes loose, and the couple end up going over the falls, holding on to each other tightly. Tom and Frances survive the ordeal, and while the scene was shot over to prevent any similar mistakes, provides an example of how dangerous it can be for the starring actor to perform stunts of this nature. It could be just luck that Tom managed to survive so many dangerous stunts while filming, although the cliff-water-falling combination must have proven to be too risky, for FBO certainly could not afford to lose its brand new star to a potentially fatal accident.

Starting with “Born to Battle” (1926) and “Wild to Go” (1926), the stunts Tom performed were not as dangerous yet they remained exciting. In these two movies he had to jump from a ship and swim to safety to escape his captors. Tom is an expert swimmer, however, as can be attested to his physical training in addition to weightlifting.

Another exciting stunt typically performed by Tom involved his rescuing a girl on a runaway horse while he too is on horseback, gently and safely scooping her up in his right arm. Such a stunt is risky in itself, yet Tom makes it look incredibly easy. On the positive side, such a stunt is thrilling to view on film while not quite as dangerous as those stunts that Tom performed during his first few starring roles.

It was not until the filming of “Idaho Red” in 1929 when Tom became victim to a different type of accident, one that almost killed him, and most likely caused him to develop scleroderma during his mid-40's. During the filming of a scene where Tom has been captured by a group of bandits and left in a cellar, a demijohn of chemicals spilled and temporarily asphyxiated him until the rest of the crew discovered him and had to revive him. This must have been terribly frightening for Tom, not knowing what happened to him even though it was just another close brush with death.

Out of the first three Tom Tyler starring role silent films mentioned above where he performs life-threatening stunts, only one of them exists as a 35mm print in a film archive: “The Wyoming Wildcat”. Even though this silent film is not restored, it remains a valuable piece of film history with regards to Tom's film career. Hopefully one day it will see restoration as well as digitization. Until then, however, we can appreciate the thrilling stunts Tom performs in his existing talkies, not to mention “The Texas Tornado” (1928).



Thursday, February 1, 2018

Gangsters abound: Tom Tyler in “The Last Outlaw”

One of the most unique turning points of Tom Tyler's film career was playing a heavy in “Powdersmoke Range” in 1935, during a time when he was portraying cowboy heroes for Reliable in the mid- to late 1930's. For Tom, it was simply a matter of making the most of his versatile acting talent which would come in handy three years later in “Stagecoach” (1939). It was one movie in between those two, however, that would see Tom portray a heavy as well as be paired up with Harry Carey once again: “The Last Outlaw” (1936) from RKO. In this movie, Tom portrays a gangster who succeeds the recently paroled Dean Payton (Carey) in the story, his fate ending up in a very similar manner to the man he meets on the city bus while trying to maintain the appearance of an ordinary city man.

From the time Dean is paroled from jail and returns to him hometown by bus, he is hoping for a new lease on life without having any reminders of his past brought up again. That all changes, however, as soon as he meets his modern-time replacement on the bus, a gangster by the name Al Goss (Tom Tyler). Compared to Dean Payton's manner of dress, a throwback to an earlier time out west, Al is wearing the finest threads available, plus a white hat with a wide black band around it. To Dean, Al looks like a well-dressed businessman, unaware that he is in fact a gangster who is in the same business that Dean once was. Once Dean boards the bus he finds a seat next to Al. Al dozes off in his bus seat when Dean nudges him and asks if he could sit there. Al abruptly wakes up and admonishes Dean: “What do you mean poking a guy in the ribs?” Al relents at Dean's request, and moves over to the seat next to the window on the bus. Dean has trouble with his belongings, but once he gets settled in, he grins at Al, who in return glowers at him, as if he is someone who needs to be kept an eye on.
Once Dean reaches his destination, he gets off with Al following him. Al finally confronts Dean and challenges him, saying: “For a nickel I'd take a sock at you.” Dean falls for the ploy and hands Al a nickel, if only to give him the satisfaction of slugging him. Just as he is ready to fistfight Al a policeman comes up behind him. The policeman asks Al what this is all about then replies that he was attending to his own business. Al is a tough hombre but younger and physically stronger than Dean is, before handing Dean back his nickel. Al, however, guarantees that he and Dean will be meeting up again soon, much to Dean's chagrin; what Dean does not know is that he will eventually meet up with Al to turn him in to the authorities and put an end to his criminal activities. In addition to becoming adjusted to a normal life, he tracks down his daughter Sally (Margaret Callahan), spends time with friends Cal Yates (Henry B Walthall) and Chuck Wilson (Hoot Gibson), going to the movies, experiences the era of the singing cowboys, and longs for the real wild west, if only because that is where his heart is. Dean will get to experience his dream sooner than later – and at the same time feel truly redeemed in addition to serving his time in jail.

In the meantime, Al and his henchmen make their plans to rob State Bank and as soon as their nefarious act commences, Dean is in the bank at the same time they are. Unfortunately for Dean, he is left behind in the position where the police suspect him as the culprit even though he is innocent. Dean knows who the police should be following and is willing to help them catch Al, whose daughter Sally has been abducted by Al and his gang. Only one diversion takes place on their way to a hideout – the same one used by Dean only two decades earlier – a stop at a small gas station to fill up their tank. Just as they are leaving, a news announcement comes over their car radio regarding the occupants and the bank robbery. The gas station attendant overhears, and as Al stands outside the car, he looks around nervously, hoping for enough time to escape while paying for the gas – which he does. The gangsters hurriedly leave and continue on their way to the hideout, and after a brief repudiation towards Al by one of his own men as to its location, eventually arrive there.

As leader of operations, including control over Sally in their possession, Al calls the defense shots when Dean, Cal and Chuck arrive and hide behind an outcropping of rocks at the top of the hill above the hideout cabin. Both sides son engage in gunfire, with Dean and his pals at an advantage: they attempt to drive everyone out of the cabin, carefully planted bullets in the barrel holding a water supply connected to the house, the stove pipe jutting out of the roof, the water bucket carried by Sally, the tires on the getaway car, even the car radio as it plays “My Heart's on the Trail”, the theme song to the movie they just saw recently.

Independent Exhibitors Film Bulletin, June 3, 1936 states the following: “Tom Tyler is seen in the strange role of one of the gangsters and he risks audience sympathy by playing the part for all it's worth.” It is only when Tom, his gang and Sally are hiding out at a deserted ranch house that he utilises his voice to perfection: the monotone gravelly dictates such as “We need water”, eventually grabbing Sally and hiding behind her as he escapes from Dean Payton out the cabin's front door. This iconic scene, which became a promotional item for “The Last Outlaw” in both lobby cards and one-sheet posters, a characterization of Tom Tyler never before seen in any films he previously made. Who could imagine Tom making a getaway while using a woman as bait? Yet he pulled off the scene beautifully in the movie, including his escape, which permits the viewer to imagine that is exactly how Harry Carey's Dean Payton was captured two decades earlier. While “Powdersmoke Range” places Tom Tyler not only in close proximity with Harrey Carey near the end – but also an emotional closeness, “The Last Outlaw” places him at a considerable distance – even placing Sally between them – while the closeness remains one at heart: being the true successor of a mastermind criminal from twenty years earlier, and just like Dean Payton, is caught, although not by Dean himself but by his friend Cal. Not surprisingly, Tom's performance ranks high as usual, playing off Harry Carey's portrayal of an aged criminal nicely without obvious rivalry. Written by E. Murray Campbell and John Ford, and directed by Christy Cabanne who would later direct Tom in “The Mummy's Hand”, “The Last Outlaw” is a B-western that ranks up there with “Powdersmoke Range” in having big-named stars playing major roles. Most importantly, “The Last Outlaw” offers Tom Tyler fans a glimpse into a very different type of character played onscreen, apart from his typical hero-type starring roles.