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

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