Tom Mix - Sky High and The Big Diamond Robbery - BluRay Review


A big hatted Tom Mix circa 1922

Tom Mix was and still is a legend. My experience of him is very limited having seen No Man's Gold in 2018. The recent Undercrank Productions of a double feature on bluray is a welcome addition to the scanty quality releases out there featuring this enormously popular cowboy star. Mix is the polar opposite of William S. Hart. Where Hart is taciturn and spare, Mix is outgoing and more than a little outrageous. 

According to the IMDb, Mix racked up an astonishing 282 credits (Wikipedia says 291) in a career which began at Selig Polyscope in 1909. After approximately 100 films for Selig, Mix soon migrated over to William Fox Studios for another 160 film during the 1920s. 

3-sheet poster
(courtesy Library of Congress)

Sky High was the first of nine films Tom Mix starred in in 1922. In Sky High (1922) Mix plays a Federal Agent who infiltrates a border smuggling ring who use Chinese laborers to bring in illegal goods (jewels and laces). In the process he fights off the bad guys (J. Farrell MacDonald) and rescues his ward (Eva Novak) from the unwanted attentions of said bad guys. In the end, it's a friendly wrapping up with J. Farrell MacDonald heading to jail with no hard feelings and Mix assigned duty to take care of his ward.

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. closer to the edge
in A Modern Musketeer (1918)

The big star of the film, aside from Mix and his wonder horse Tony, is the location shooting at the Grand Canyon.  Mix purportedly did his own stunts, not quite as graceful as Douglas Fairbanks rappelling down a wall on a rope. It's clear they stuck to the same rocky areas. Plenty of good footage along some of the trails, goodness not much of a man-made rock border and the cliff edge! Very picturesque and the aerial footage is quite breathtaking.  Eva Novak has not much to do, but, is decorative in a few spots along the Grand Canyon and in some Chinese pajamas. The print quality is mostly excellent and a good restoration (this work by Kathryn Pratt). Ben Model's scoring on piano keeps the action moving. The story, while slight, was pretty enjoyable.

Title Lobby Card

Now, The Big Diamond Robbery (1929) was much more up my alley. A great mix (pun intended) of the modern western hero, feet planted in both worlds, the wild west and among the modern city slickers. Father George Brooks (Frank Beal) spoils his daughter Ellen Brooks (Kathryn McGuire) and indulges her proclivity to some wild behavior, including reckless driving and speeding. Kathryn is also enamored of Rodney Stevens (Ernest Hilliard) who is a shady guy after money and her newly acquired present from Dad, a diamond pendant.  Aunt Effie (Martha Mattox) is not so indulgent and convinces father George to send her away from the city as part of a deal brokered with the judge to avoid real jail time.

Sending for his Arizona ranch foreman, Tom Markham (Mix), we first get action hero Tom who, after a wild taxi adventure, meets Ellen and her dodgy swain and rescues her from a runaway horse (so he thinks). After a misadventure (taxi running out of gas) arrives at the Brooks house and gets his mission to accompany Ellen and Aunt Effie to Arizona. Tom and her father have worked up that the locals will treat the city girls to a treat of the "old west" by staging an Indian attack and Tom pretending to be a local bandit. 

In the meantime, Rodney's gang are preparing to break in to the safe and steal the diamond in the dark of night. Interrupted by Ellen waking up and raising the alarm, Tom follows the crooks to their lair and manages to stash the diamond and escape a sticky spot amongst the thieves. He fast tracks it to the train station and makes it just in time to head to the ranch.  Ellen, not knowing her swain Rodney is a bad guy, makes friendly with Tom and feels a definite attraction. Once arriving in Arizona, Tom separates from the group leaving the ladies to travel to the ranch by stagecoach where they meet with "unfriendly" Indians and the local bad buy black Bart (Tom Mix in disguise) they arrive at the ranch a little worse for wear. 

Rodney et al. have driven to Arizona and arrive at the ranch, too. Their ulterior motives hidden, stealing Ellen's diamond. Rodney in his hunt for the whereabouts of the diamond, discovers Tom's black Bart disguise and plots to show him up with one of his cronies wearing the costume. A phony telegram and phony robbery are foiled (go Aunt Effie!) and Tom and Tony save the day saving Ellen, her diamond and a budding romance at the fadeout.

This film was a lot of fun and I have to say, Tom Mix was the king of the largest Stetson ever on film. It looks more like a 20 gallon hat than a 10. His cowboy costumes were pretty splashy and not what I'd call practical for a rancher. No matter, charisma galore! The film breezed along, especially supported by Ben Model's terrific score on the virtual Wurlitzer. I do LOVE a theater organ score. Again the restoration of the print source was accomplished by Kathryn Pratt. The source prints were beautiful and the clarity, gosh looked like it was filmed last week, not 94 years ago.

There are no extras, but, you do not need them, the two films are entertaining enough. Highly recommended!     


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