Monday, May 28, 2012

Roaming Range Reporter
Photo of Gary Brown on Horsebak
As we close our series of Gary Brown articles for Smoke Signals, we thank Gary for his passion, his opinions and the beautiful words he used to deliver them to us.   ---Linda Kohn Sherwood, editor

Article 5 in a Series of 5:

Top 10 Memorial Silent Westerns Worthy of Watching (second half)
(The first half can be found in February 2012 Edition of Smoke Signals)

By Gary Eugene Brown

There are five other films that are worth watching, provided you've gotten over your bias regarding the silent era westerns. These are not full-length films (ninety minutes or more), however the quality and entertainment value are there nonetheless.

The Tole Gate (1920) - Another film by William S. Hart which is perhaps his finest role. The Toll Gate is a film of revenge and redemption, like many of his films. Bill starts out as an outlaw, but by the end is convinced by either a mother, sister, or pretty school marm to reform his ways and go straight. The story line is still relevant today, as one eventually has to pay for his past transgressions. You must "pay the fiddler" when the dance is over.

The Great K&A Train Robbery (1926) - There was only one Tom Mix. Larger than life, he personified the western hero, perhaps not the way he really was, yet perhaps the way he should have been. Mix was and still is the symbol of the cowboy film star, "an idol of a million boys." This is one of his best movies that have survived. It has non-stop action, fearless stunts, and humor. It was filmed on location in the Royal Gorge area of Colorado.

Riders of the Purple Sage (1926) - This was based upon Zane Grey's finest novel, and it too stayed true to the novel. Filmed in the Alabama Hills of Lone Pine, California, it is one of Tom Mix's rare serious roles. Mix portrays the vengeful Lassister, one of many who played the famous Grey character on the silver screen. However, the film was not as popular with Mix's fans as it lacked his signature non-stop action and was almost totally void of humor. It is a fine movie nonetheless.

Thundering Hooves (1924) - One of the best cowboy stars of the '20s was Fred Thomson. Almost forgotten today, he was number two in the box office behind Tom Mix and was about to pass him in popularity when, unfortunately, this former national decathlon champion died of tetanus at only age 31. This one surviving, complete film demonstrates the agility of Thomson, who was as acrobatic as the famous Douglas Fairbanks Sr. One wonders what could have happened to his career if Thomson survived and entered the sound period as the number one cowboy film star.

The Roping Fool (1925) - This is a testimony to the roping skills of probably the most beloved man of the 20th century. Will Rogers was unequalled in history as a roper and this semi-documentary film verifies the fact. See it for yourself. There is a humorous story line of Will's being obsessed with roping. His arch-nemesis is "Big Boy" Guinn Williams who went on to star in silents as the hero, and later as a sidekick. With Will being a vaudeville performer, famous movie star, honorary Mayor of Beverly Hills, champion roper, humorist, newspaper columnist, noted speaker, aviation pioneer, and goodwill ambassador to the world, if he died today in a plane crash, with instant main stream and cable TV news and the internet, people would be glued to their TVs. In 1935, the world was in complete shock, while sitting in their living rooms in front of their family radio.

Honorable Mention - There were other films that played an important role and helped pave the way for the western cinema. The Squaw Man (1914), based upon a famous play, was directed by a young Cecil B. DeMille. It supposedly was the first major film made in Hollywood. In 1917, John Ford directed his first feature film Straight Shooting starring Harry Carey, Sr. and co-starring a young Hoot Gibson. James Cruze filmed the first major western extravaganza The Covered Wagon (1923) that told of the settling of the West. Even though it seems more dated in its appearance compared to the highly recommended films, it has many memorable scenes portraying the hardships that the early pioneers had to endure. It is worth a "look-see" as a recreation of the migration West, and could have been an actual documentary, as some of the people in the film were actual participants in the earlier wagons west movement. Due to the immense success of The Covered Wagon, Cruze went on to direct The Pony Express in 1925. It was not close to the same production values of Cruze's earlier film, but is a historic film nonetheless.

With hope, this article will encourage you to venture forth and discover for yourself some of these mostly forgotten gems. They will help you fill the void before the next western film of some quality plays in your local theater. Film historians are aware of their existence, however the masses are not.

In closing, remember the saying "Silence is golden." In this case, it surely is.

© 2010, Gary Eugene Brown; all rights reserved. A version of this article appeared in September, 2010 in Movieguide magazine.