Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Calling Agent Tom: Espionage in Tom Tyler’s movies

"The Man from Death Valley" 1931
The average Tom Tyler B-western of the silent film and sound eras may evoke the concept of the vast undiscovered yellow plains and purple mountains beneath the pink and crimson skies, the landscape dotted with cowboys and rustlers. Very rarely a description would include the topic of espionage; surprisingly, espionage as a plot can and does exist in westerns, often in the form of rustler gang infiltration. As exciting as the action can possibly be in a Tom Tyler movie, it seems like espionage is the perfect complement to the fistfight action and suspense so prevalent in these stories.

The book “The Espionage Filmography: United States Releases, 1898 through 1999” by Paul Mavis (McFarland; 2011) lists five movies with the espionage plot; three which star Tom, one which he co-stars, and two which are not included in the Google Books preview. Following are the five entry numbers and film titles:

370. Deadwood Pass (1933). Tom is a government agent who arrives in Deadwood Pass, originally mistaken for The Hawk due to a tattoo of a Hawk on his left arm – the same spot where the real Hawk has the same tattoo. His job is to find a huge cache full of stolen loot from a robbery and bring the robbers to justice.

"When the Law Rides" (1928)
910. The Man from Death Valley (1931). Tom is a Secret Service agent who gets word about a bank heist about to take place and before the robbers can pull it off, Tom decides to rob the bank himself and keep the money in a safe spot. “The Man from Death Valley” remains a lost film.

1185. ?

1321. Samson and Delilah (1949). Based on the Biblical story, the Philistine Delilah (Hedy Lamarr) has been referred to as one of the first female spies. Spurned by the apple of her eye Samson (Victor Mature), she makes the rash decision to cut his long hair which is the symbol of his power – and later the course of Hebrew history forever. Tom has a minor role in the film as a gristmill captain.

1667. ?

1700. When the Law Rides (1928). Tom is a federal agent, a crime fighter in the form of Captain Marvel minus the red and gold superhero costume. Tom’s character is even compared to Zorro by Mavis, possibly for the stunt where Tom swings from a rope tied to the balcony of a hotel and mounting his horse from the rear. “When the Law Rides” is a lost silent film from FBO.

"Deadwood Pass" 1933

In addition to the above named titles, “Trigger Tom” (1935), “Terror of the Plains” (1934), and “West of Cheyenne” (1931) also carry this espionage subplot: Tom Tyler is in a position where he must infiltrate a gang in order to trap the rustlers and bring someone to justice.

Note: If anyone out there has a copy of this book “The Espionage Filmography: United States Releases, 1898 through 1999” or the following entries numbered 1185 and 1667 please contact me so that I can include them in this article. Credit will be given to the contributor. Thank you!

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