Monday, October 24, 2022

Collectibles: Tom Tyler on Riders of the Silver Screen movie cards

Among the collectible movie card sets manufactured within the last fifty years is Riders of the Silver Screen. Manufactured by Smokey Mountain Knife Works in Sevierville, Tennessee in 1993, each card measures 2 1/2” x 3 ½” in size, the standard baseball card size. A parade of western stars receives several cards dedicated to their most noteworthy films in the Riders of the Silver Screen Series 1 set, The front of each card contains a scene from a popular film, while the back of each card contains an interesting fact or two about the western star, including birth and death dates, place of birth, real name, and blurb about the star’s film career. Each card has a red border with a second border in the form of a film reel with the film itself forming a frame around a movie poster of some type: a film still, lobby card, half-sheet, or one sheet. While a full color palette is used, the Riders of the Silver Screen Series 1 leans to the natural colors of the southwest.

Series 1 of Riders of the Silver Screen contains six movie cards that Tom Tyler appears on and are numbered consecutively. The card numbers and film scenes are as follows:

277 – The Phantom of the West

278 – The Texas Tornado

279 – Santa Fe Bound

280 – War of the Range

281 – Lost Ranch

282 – Gauchos of El Dorado

Smokey Mountain Knife Works has been in operation since 1978 and is best known for selling pocketknives and owning a major knife showplace. The company also manufactures knives decorated with western stars as part of their “Riders of the Silver Screen” series.

Other western stars who appear on Riders of the Silver Screen Series 1 include: Monte Hale, George O’Brien, Rex Allen, and Gene Autry.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Aventuras de Tom Mix and Tom Tyler: Heroes of the Prairie

Having completed three silent film reconstructions here at Aventuras de Tom Tyler - “Red Hot Hoofs” (1926), “When the Law Rides” (1928), and “Tyrant of Red Gulch” (1928) - I felt it was time for a translation project although one of a different kind: from the Spanish comic book Boy, issue number 2 in the series. A copy of this particular comic book was first acquired by me in August 2021.

What makes the Tom Mix and Tom Tyler adventure-seeking team unique is that each story is a complete adventure in its own, with a major comic-book sketch on the cover of Boy, while on the inside of the cover is the story, accompanied by a second comics panel inside the front cover. The comic illustrations for this the translated story of “Dos Colossos en el Aire”, or “Two Western Heroes in the Air” starring these two heroes of the western film genre are posted below.

Please note that this translation is the property of Aventuras de Tom Tyler. If you would like to link to this translation of “Dos Colossos en el Aire” from your website, please contact me first at Thank you! -Mary


On a midwestern hacienda during a wedding ceremony, the small group of guests dispersed quickly as gunshots were heard by them in the distance. The only people who remained present were a handful of young men on horseback, galloping while firing their guns at a group of unshakable pursuers, a tribe seeking to avenge a wrong committed against them by a member of the bride’s family.

“Arise!” Tom Mix roared at the young men who came within sight. “Turn around so I can see you. Your pursuers may have rifles, but we have the intent to win this fight!”

Suddenly there was a violent clash between Tom Mix and Tom Tyler with the natives riding Appaloosa horses, the white stallions the two heroes rode on blending in with the ones they fought. Some of the wounded natives fell from their horses to the ground. In the fray of this incident, the courage of the local cowboys who fought alongside Mix and Tyler was stimulated, which in turn allowed them to defeat the natives who put up a good fight.

Finally, the last of the Natives fled, beaten down by the cowboys, heading quickly down the road which led to the Black Hills mountains. At that moment, Tom Tyler and Tom Mix were praised by the local cowboys for their successful fight against the natives, but it was not long before the mood changed to one of anxiety. As both Toms looked around at everyone, they discovered that Miss Margaret, the bride of the wedding, was not present. What happened to her? the two men thought to themselves. Soon they figured out that she was kidnapped by one of the natives.

Tom Mix spoke to the men who were present: “These natives come from a nomadic tribe that lives in the Valley of Souls, where it is very difficult to penetrate, except by air. For some time they have lived in that place, making it difficult to expel them.” He was one of the wedding guests as was Tom Tyler, and was still wearing his standard Hudson’s Bay blanket coast along with his white cowboy hat. Upon hearing Mix speak, an aviator who was also a wedding guest stepped forward. He flew all the way from Los Angeles to South Dakota, landing on the plains near Villa de Oro. Mix looked at Tom Tyler standing by his side.  The aviator said to them:

“I can lower you from my plane into the valley.” 

Both Mix and Tyler nodded. The flight was arranged. Tom Tyler would accompany Mix on the plane with a third man who knew about the situation in the valley and find out if a daring rescue was possible. The man accompanied Mix on horseback, while Tyler rode his horse alongside them, in the direction of where the Waco UIC cabin biplane was parked.

The three men boarded the biplane and the engine snored as the plane took out quickly, emitting the barest line of smoke through the exhaust valve in the air. Only a few moments later it approached the mountains, flying directly over the Valley of Souls.

In the valley was the village where the Natives lived. Finally home, they dismounted their horses and one of them led Margarita to the chief of their tribe. The sudden appearance of the biplane caused fear in the Natives, who looked at it suspiciously, aiming their weapons at it due to the plane dive bombing them. Positioned on the lower wing, one man on each side of the plane, Tom Tyler and Tom Mix swooped down, observing the village. Margarita was temporarily left alone when the Natives fled to a temporary camp after giving their attention to the biplane. She heard Tom Tyler call her name. She looked up at the biplane, which started to gain air height once again after Tyler threw a small rock wrapped with paper on the ground in front of her. Margaret picked up the rock and unwrapped it. On the paper was written a message for her rescue. It read:

“Miss Margarita: We will fly through the valley again, lowering the plane to your height. Raise your arms and we will rescue you.” 

A feeling of gratitude came over her. She smiled up at the Waco UIC cabin biplane which turned around and started to descend once again in the valley, as if to taxi, when Tom Tyler crawled out onto the rear of the biplane near the tail, and as the Natives approached once again, swiftly lifted Margarita off the ground. All risk of panic left her as she guided by Tom Tyler to the rear seat of the plane, while Tom Mix fired shots at the Natives who kidnapped her. As the biplane lifted into the air, the Natives became enraged, but were finally defeated.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Phantom of the Range 1928: Two film releases?

One of Tom Tyler’s silent films from FBO which underwent additional filming for its final release was “Phantom of the Range” (1928). While additional filming may seem common for most feature-length silent films produced by major studios, it was relatively rare for “oaters” made by B-film producers. At one point, “Phantom of the Range” was available on Youtube for viewing, this particular copy having originated from Spain, complete with intertitles in Castilian.

Of note on the original release of “Phantom of the Range” was its viewing length of 46 minutes, according to a review in Variety dated February 8, 1928, barely an hour long like the majority of Tom’s silent films made for FBO. Oliver Drake is credited as being the writer of the screenplay, with James Dugan as director. One main difference in the location of where this silent film was reviewed is given as “the projection room”, probably referring to the one located on the FBO studio lot.

Variety, February 8, 1928

In the second review of this silent film in the May 2, 1928 issue of Variety, however, there are a number of differences, perhaps most surprisingly in the writer’s credit: Frank Howard Clark. This may be the case of the story extension added to lengthen the film to 60 minutes. Variety also reports “Phantom of the Range” as having premiered at Stanley Theatre in New York City.

Variety, May 2, 1928

Having been lucky enough to view “Phantom of the Range” when it was on Youtube, I can only make a guess that the additional footage appeared in the final third of this silent film where the story consists of “filler material”. Hopefully the year 2024 will see a more widely available release of “Phantom of the Range” when it enters public domain.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Tom Tyler and his birth family

In observance of Tom Tyler’s 119th birthday, August 9, 2022, I’d like to share some birth (and death) information about his family and where his birth ranking is among his other four siblings. First, some information about his parents.

Frank Markowski was born on August 15, 1873 in Lithuania; his wife Helen Mantivila was born three days after, on August 18 of the same year. Rare is it for a married couple to share such close birthdates, perhaps even rarer if they share the same exact birthdate. Together, they had five children which they raised upon settling in Port Henry, New York. One interesting thing to note is that Frank and Helen’s first child, Frank Michael, was born in Lithuania prior to the small family immigrating to America.

The five Markowski children were born in the following order:

Frank Michael Tyler (born September 21, 1900; died July 21, 1975)

Tom Tyler (Vincent Markowski) (born August 9, 1903; died May 1, 1954)

Molly Redge (born December 24, 1906; died October 28, 1987)

Joseph John Marko (born November 18, 1907; died May 6, 1972)

Katherine Slepski (born February 17, 1911; died August 1, 1972)

Katherine being the youngest, was also the closest to Tom, eventually becoming his caregiver during the last years of his life due to scleroderma’s effects on his body. Sadly, Tom’s father Frank died in 1935 at the age of 61, before getting a chance to see his second-born son become the first superhero on film, Captain Marvel. Eight years later, his mother Helen died, at the age of 70. The family plot is located at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Filmed on location! The Desert Pirate 1927

One of Tom Tyler’s silent films, “The Desert Pirate” (1927), was filmed on location at Keen Camp in the San Jacinto Mountains. Located east of Los Angeles in Riverside County, the San Jacinto mountain range was named after Saint Hyacinth, a 13th century Polish Dominican priest. This mountain range extends thirty miles in length, southeast of the San Bernardino Mountain range. The rugged beauty of the San Jacinto mountain range culminate in several noteworthy peaks: San Jacinto Peak, at 10,834 feet high; Jean Peak, at 10,656 feet high, and Miller Peak, at 10,417 feet high. Geologically, the entire mountain range is a fault block of granite compressed between the San Jacinto fault which lies to the west, and the San Andreas fault, which lies to the east.

When the camp was built in 1892 at 5,000 feet in the San Jacinto mountains, John and Mary Keen already had experience in the hospitality business, owning a hotel in Valle Vista, located in San Jacinto Valley of Riverside County, California. Convenient to many South Californians seeking relief from the hot summers, Keen Camp soon became an ideal spot for filmmakers in the 1920’s. The layout of the camp was appropriate enough for filmmaking, cast and crew members: small cabins were often rented, and primitive camping was also accessible. Mary Keen had one building reserved for the kitchen and dining room for campground guests.

By 1911, Keen Camp was sold to Percy and Anita Walker, and by the 1920’s, was run by Anita, and her second husband Robert Elliott, after Percy died in 1912 from a drowning accident. Anita renamed the main building Tahquitz Lodge. The name Tahquitz comes from the deity of the same name in Soboba Indian tribe mythology. By 1922, Tahquitz Lodge included the following amenities: dancing, bowling, billiards, tennis court, horseback riding, hiking, lawn croquet, and musical entertainment at night, all in the style of a western town. Keen Camp even had its own post office. In September 1926, Keen Camp was saved from a major brush fire which originated on a stretch of land between Keen Camp and Idyllwild Camp, which lies directly north of Keen Camp. In 1932, six years after the filming of "The Desert Pirate", a new highway opened with grandeur: Pines-to-Palms Highway, which forms part of California state route 74. This 67-mile long road was designed to work with the layout of the San Jacinto mountains and at the same time provide an easy-to-navigate for cars with its grades and curves.

In addition to “The Desert Pirate”, the following silent films were also filmed in part at Keen Camp: "The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come" (1920) with Jack Pickford, and "The Ghost City" (1923), a Universal serial starring Margaret Morris and Pete Morrison.

Keen Camp no longer exists, its original buildings are long gone, although there is a Keen Camp Summit located to the southeast of the original camp, on the Pines-to-Palms Highway above Garner Valley. Today, Mount San Jacinto is a state park, and the San Jacinto Wilderness is also protected park land for the native flora and fauna.

Sadly, “The Desert Pirate” remains a lost silent film, but should it be rediscovered, viewers would get the privilege of seeing Keen Camp in all its glory nestled in the San Jacinto mountains.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Tom Tyler in shadows and light

Many famous directors such as Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles used shadows and different lighting techniques to add depth in a scene of a feature film. This allows the viewer to see the movie as a realistic, three-dimensional image, complete with the layers of light and shading. Also known as Chiaroscuro Lighting in Hollywood, probably the best example in a film Tom Tyler appeared in is “Blood on the Moon” (1948) where he plays a supporting role. As with other film noirs from the 1940’s, low-key lighting is used to achieve the dramatic, somber mood of the story. There are other examples of such lighting taking place in a number of Tom’s westerns, including ones where he has starring roles. Continue reading below to find out which of these movies have scenes with the distinct contrast of lighting and shadows.

Rider of the Plains 1931

A precursor to Tom Tyler’s roles as an outlaw in “Powdersmoke Range” (1935) and “Stagecoach” (1939), “Rider of the Plains” places him in a similar character although one who is on the verge of becoming reformed. Like the other Trem Carr B-westerns Tom appeared in, there is a strong element of human interest in this film. Rare for a low-budget western, the characters are surprisingly well developed. There is also a distinct onscreen chemistry between Tom and child actor Andy Shuford, who plays Tom’s impetuous young pal.

To enhance Tom’s role of Blackie Saunders, he is wears a black shirt with white trim plus a black cowboy hat. Most scenes in “A Rider of the Plains” are filmed either at dusk, at night or dawn. Even indoors scenes at night show the bare minimum of light upon the faces of the actors in an attempt to stimulate the dark personality of Blackie when the local church pastor Jim Wallace (Ted Adams) and former member of Blackie’s gang comes up against him in order to give Sandy (Shuford), Tom’s partner, a chance at a better life. It is when Jim starts explaining the reasons to Blackie when the latter starts to growl “Stop preaching to me!” several times when shadows are cast over his face, as if he were possessed (in Poland, this movie was released under the title “Szatanski Cowboy”, or “The Satanic Cowboy”). Blackie even attempts to strangle Jim to death, with his big, strong hands wrapped firmly around his neck as the clergyman is pushed backward onto a table, surrounded by darkness in the room. Still talking to Blackie as if to discourage him from doing evil, Jim is back on his feet, and with the darkness fading away from the background, the shadows from Blackie’s face gone, only a severe expression remaining in his face. His steely eyes dart about like those of a serpent, as he continues to face the camera. Such a dramatic scene would not be repeated until 1939 when Tom Tyler turned in a critically acclaimed performance in “Stagecoach” (1939). Archie Stout’s cinematography is above-average here, with direction from John P. McCarthy.

Terror of the Plains 1934

Somewhat similar in plot to “West of Cheyenne” (1931) which marks Tom Tyler’s first feature-length synchronized sound film, “Terror of the Plains” contains one scene which distinctly plays off light against shadows. 

Tom Lansing leads a relatively happy life as a cowpuncher for an outfit when he receives a letter from his father who is being held in a jail up in Cheyenne. His father (Ralph Lewis) is being framed for a murder he did not commit, and with this news in hand, Tom acts quickly. He explains to his boss at work that he must leave to take care of an important matter, not disclosing what it is, while at the same time, his pal Banty (Frank Rice) gives the boss a number of complaints, primarily health issues. Leaving on horseback, Tom and Banty travel to their destination.

The next scene cuts to Tom speaking with his father who is in jail. Well lit from both inside the cell as well as outside, his father explains what happened and what Tom must do in order to exonerate him. With his father’s faith in him, Tom will have to meet face to face with Butcher Wells (William Gould), the real murderer, who is hiding out in Twin Rocks Canyon. As if to break the fourth wall, Tom is facing the camera, speaking his dialogue, before bidding his father farewell. Here the light seems to fade away as Tom walks down the hallway of the jail, his face grim and obscured every second step of the way by the dark shadows. For Tom Lansing, this walk through darkness is only a precursor of what he come up against once he reaches the canyon where he must find the man who framed his father. J. Henry Kruse photographs this scene artfully in this western directed by Harry S. Webb.

Stagecoach 1939

Considered one of the best western movies ever made and directed by John Ford, what makes “Stagecoach” so unique for Tom Tyler is that even though his role is of a supporting nature, his performance has been critically acclaimed over the decades if only for the reason that while his dialogue is minimal, he executes his performance as if it were a silent film, not a synchronized sound movie. Bert Glennon is the cinematographer for “Stagecoach”, and with John Wayne in his first leading man role as the Ringo Kid, he joins seven other passengers upon a stagecoach headed to Lordsburg across the rugged southwest, often passing through Indian territory.

Ringo has some unfinished business with Luke Plummer (Tom Tyler) which he intends to put to rest once and for all. When the stage reaches Lordsburg and Luke receives word from a family member, he is sitting at a table playing poker with a group of men in a saloon, with one of the establishment’s dancers at his side. Stacks of poker chips are on the table in front of him, as he holds four cards in his left hand. Luke’s eyes shift from side to side before he stands up, his face and upper body darkened by a shadow, before he casts his four playing cards upon the table: two aces, and two eights, a series known as “Dead Man’s Hand”, so called because that was the same hand held by Wild Bill Hickock when he was shot dead on August 2, 1876. Luke knows the jig is up, and his nervousness is obvious from when he leaves the poker game to when he swaggers up to the bar for a shot of whisky. Looking every inch the lean, mean fighting machine that he is onscreen, Tom Tyler literally dominates the saloon scene until he leaves, forced to leave his rifle behind, when he and two other Plummer men enter the night streets to do battle with Ringo, eventually shot by his enemy in the darkness of late night. 

Blood on the Moon 1948

Long considered a movie of the western-noir subgenre, Robert Mitchum has the starring role in “Blood on the Moon” with Robert Wise as the director. Tom Tyler appears in a supporting role as Frank Reardon, one of John Lufton’s (Tom Tully) men who happens to be a cattle owner. Lufton is engaged in a conflict with a group of homesteaders. Jim Garry (Mitchum) is asked to help an old friend by the name of Tate Riling (Robert Preston) to take part in a business scheme to influence Lufton to sell his herd of cattle to them. Tate double crosses his friend, and from there things go downhill.

Tate’s plan unravels when Jim finds out what is really taking place, and in a saloon late one night, the two men start brawling on the floor in a grueling fistfight. What takes place next is perhaps one of the most significant and memorable scenes in the movie. Reardon is hiding just behind the door to the saloon, waiting to walk in and deliver a final blow to Jim in the form of a bullet. Minimal lighting is present, and with Jim exhausted from the fight, lies on top of Tate upon the floor. Reardon finally enters the saloon, walking at a slow, even pace. His physical frame is obscured by total darkness on one step, until he is in font of Jim and stands over him, ready to plug him. Here Tom Tyler is truly intimidating in appearance, with the camera angled upwards at him as he walks, coming closer to the two beaten men on the floor, before the camera levels again to show Tom getting shot by Walter Brennan.

It is worth noting that the cinematographer for “Blood on the Moon” is Nick Musuraca, who also worked on many of Tom Tyler’s silent films for FBO. For the brief few minutes Tom Tyler has on film in all, it is this scene which builds up the suspense at a point in the movie which determines the winner between the cattle owner and the homesteaders.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Reading silent films: “The Tyrant of Red Gulch” 1928 starring Tom Tyler

“Tyrant of Red Gulch” is the third installment of the Tom Tyler lost silent film reconstruction series. Unlike the previous two projects, “When the Law Rides” (1928) and “Red Hot Hoofs” (1926), this silent film is a benchmark in the history of the Aventuras de Tom Tyler website. Details are included in the Introduction to the translation. Please read the Terms of Use before reading the actual story.

Most importantly, enjoy my translation, and hopefully this will be an incentive to rediscover “Tyrant of Red Gulch”.

Click here to read my translation!