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.
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.