Sunday, April 1, 2018

Tom Tyler: The Cowboy Cop (1926)

One of two Tom Tyler silent films made for FBO which had Jean Arthur as his leading lady was “The Cowboy Cop” (1926). As his eighth starring role, Tom appears in a rather unusual plot for a western: a cowboy who finds himself in a big city out west and gets involved with an exciting and adventurous lifestyle. His love interest happens to be an heiress, he engages in a high-speed pursuit on horseback, and a motorcycle chase after crooks. Directed by Robert De Lacey and written by Frank Richardson Pierce and F. A. E. Pine, the plot as it appears below is adapted from several trade publications sources: Moving Picture World, August 7, 1926; Motion Picture News, August 28, 1926; and Exhibitor's Herald, August 7, 1926.

Jerry McGill (Tom Tyler) arrives in the big city of Los Angeles from a ranch in Arizona but meets up with a robber by the name of Dago Jack (Pat Harmon) who pretends to get him a room at a hotel but ends up robbing him instead (think Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis in the 1970 Neil Simon comedy, “The Out of Towners”). Dejected, Jerry walks around the city until he sees a hungry newsboy (Frankie Darro) who doesn't have enough money to eat, and as a gesture of kindness, Jerry parts with his last few cents from his pocket and gives it to the boy to purchase a meal. Frankie is forever grateful and in turn, the two become fast friends.

Jerry manages to get a job with the Los Angeles mounted police, and with his horseback riding skills, gets hired in no time. The only problem is, he sees little action on horseback due to being appointed to a rather wealthy district, where there is practically no crime. Before he knows it, Jerry is introduced to a wealthy heiress, Virginia Selby (Jean Arthur) in a rather unusual manner: she is on a runaway horse in which he must go after her and rescue her. Soon Jerry and Virginia start spending time and getting to know each other. Virginia's privileged background is hardly a barrier to her interest in him, in fact, she starts inviting him over to her house to meet her father and have dinner.

A visiting count from an eastern European country by the name of Mirski is a guest at a social event at Virginia's house when he decides to send two hitmen to break into the safe and steal the valuable jewels. Even though Jerry is dressed in his finest dinner suit, he still engages in a fight with the crooks, chasing them first by car, then by motorcycle , finally capturing them. After Jerry finds he has been in the city long enough, he decides to return home to his ranch in Arizona. To his surprise, Jerry is persuaded by Virginia to stay with her on the family ranch in California and marry her.

Tom's onscreen pal Frankie is included in practically every scene, the latter dancing the Charleston, much to the delight of the viewers. He also accompanies Tom in all the fights, and is equally amazed at having gone from being a lowly newspaper boy to high society literally overnight. It may be that getting to see how the other half lived which prompted Tom and Frankie to eventually compromise and stay with Virginia on her California ranch.

Film stills from “The Cowboy Cop” (Motion Picture News, August 28, 1926) show Tom in a city police uniform walking his beat in the park, with little Frankie Darro as his partner, complete in a miniature police uniform. As in most big cities, Tom's police character rides horseback, along with Frankie on his pony. It is worth noting that the police uniform that Tom Tyler wore had to be custom made in order to properly fit his muscular build. Of course, Frankie's dog Sitting Bull, also appears in “The Cowboy Cop”.  A picture of Tom from Exhibitors Herald, August 7, 1926 shows Tom in his police uniform and holding hands with Jean Arthur, erroneously listed as Dorothy Dunbar, who appeared in “The Masquerade Bandit”, “Lightning Lariats”, and “Red Hot Hoofs” with Tom.

Cinema owners who previewed “The Cowboy Cop” also critiqued the film, often saying this will appeal most to Tom Tyler and Frankie Darro fans, even though the story line is rather unusual for a standard western for its time period (Exhibitor's Herald, April 30, 1927). However it should be remembered that FBO purposefully gave Tom Tyler scripts that employed highly creative concepts, not just to deviate from the silent film western, but to imagine an actor like Tom Tyler in unlimited places and time periods (the same was also done with “The Sonora Kid” and King Arthur). Perhaps most importantly, “The Cowboy Cop” is one of the handful of Tom Tyler FBO silent films which survived and is archived at EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. Hopefully “The Cowboy Cop”, given its unique plot and stars of Tom Tyler and Jean Arthur, can be restored and digitized for public viewing.
From Motion Picture News, August 28, 1926


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