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(Courtesy of Les Adams)
 Inside THE PHANTOM EMPIRE pressbook was the ad on the left touting Mix's return to the screen in a Mascot serial.






(From Old Corral collection)



(From Old Corral collection)

The near 45 minute length of Chapter 1 was marketed by Levine/Mascot as a replacement for the typical second feature in a double bill. In the ad above, Chapter 1 was paired up with the John Wayne THE TRAIL BEYOND (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934). Check the nickel and fifteen cent admission prices.
Nat Levine had a serial factory called Mascot Pictures Corporation, and several of his recent cliffhangers had proved to be popular and financially lucrative - these were MYSTERY MOUNTAIN (Mascot, 1934) with Ken Maynard, and THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (Mascot, 1935) with new singin' cowboy Gene Autry.

Levine made an offer that Mix couldn't refuse - $40,000 ($10,000/week) for a total of four weeks work on a new chapterplay titled THE MIRACLE RIDER.

The deal was beneficial to both parties. Tom, who was now about 55 years old, needed the money. And since the story was to be told in fifteen chapters played in fifteen consecutive Saturday matinees, it would provide a tie in and advertisement for his circus. Levine gambled that the marquee value of the Tom Mix name would allow him to peddle the serial at a higher price tag and to more theaters. To increase saleability, the Mascot boss/owner decided that episode 1, "The Vanishing Indian", would be on five reels and about 43 minutes in length and the complete serial would span fifteen chapters (and would be Levine's only 15 chapter serial). (Footnote: I checked my DVD of THE MIRACLE RIDER, and the running time of Chapter 1 was 42 minutes, 51 seconds.)

The total running time wound up around 306 minutes, making it the lengthiest of the sound serials (DICK TRACY was Republic's longest, clocking in at a tad under 290 minutes). The story combined the old west and new west, meaning dusty trails and horses along with paved roads, cars and trucks. Science fiction elements were included (shades of THE PHANTOM EMPIRE) such as the 'firebird' rocket, that goofy 'TV screen' with the scrolling messages, and a super explosive called X-94 which was only found on the Indian Reservation that was being safeguarded by Mix (as Ranger Tom Morgan).

Several production units worked simultaneously (but that was pretty standard practice). While Mix was doing scenes with baddies Charles 'Ming' Middleton, Jason Robards, Sr., and Bob Kortman, a second unit was filming fights and riding scenes using stuntman Cliff Lyons as Mix's double. Directing was Armand Schaefer with B. Reeves "Breezy" Eason in charge of the second unit and caring for most of the exterior shooting.

The lengthy episode 1 was released to the theaters in April, 1935. Levine made sure that publicity material included various accolades about Tom Mix's return to the screen:

"GREATEST WESTERN STAR IN THE HISTORY OF MOTION PICTURES"
"Idol of Every Boy in the World"
"The FOREMOST WESTERN STAR IN MOTION PICTURES"
"THE MOST WIDELY EXPLOITED STAR IN THE HISTORY OF MOTION PICTURES"

Levine's gamble paid off and THE MIRACLE RIDER became his most successful cliffhanger. His cost was about $80,000.00 (half of which was Tom's $40,000.00 salary), and that was about double the price tag of a typical Mascot chapterplay. Some 12,000 movie houses booked THE MIRACLE RIDER and the rental fee was $85.00 ($15.00 for the lengthier chapter 1, and $5.00 for each of the remaining fourteen episodes). The end result - Levine wound up grossing about a million dollars.

Some western film critics rip apart Mix and THE MIRACLE RIDER. The serial is not a great one, especially when compared to the assembly line polish and perfection of Republic Pictures of the late 1930s and early 1940s. And it probably would have been faster paced if Mascot hadn't stretched it to fifteen episodes (but Nat Levine made that decision based on the gain from additional rentals of the extra episodes). But it is a very good chapterplay ... and certainly the best from Levine and his little Mascot company. And it does have a superb supporting cast playing Mix's helpers as well as the baddies, henchmen and background roles. And Charles Middleton is always fun to watch.

Viewed from the perspective of the mid 1930s, THE MIRACLE RIDER is a good chapterplay and represents Mascot at its peak (and close to the end of its existence before the merger into the new Republic Pictures company). I spent about a half-hour with Levine around 1978 and I recall him commenting (my paraphrasing) that Mix was no problem ... easy to work with ... a real pro.

As a kid, I saw THE MIRACLE RIDER on early TV in Atlanta around 1950 ... and was thrilled. When videotape arrived, RIDER was one of my first tape purchases. And I still get a smile on my face watching the opening credits superimposed over Mix riding Tony Jr. (to be accurate - Tom riding two Tony Jr. doubles/lookalikes).

Interesting "believe it or don't" tidbit: I have a December, 1934 newspaper article which mentions that the initial title of the serial was THE INDIAN RANGER and Tom's daughter Ruth Mix was slated as the heroine (a role that would be played by Joan Gale). The article also notes that Tom and Ruth had resolved their differences and "Nice at Christmas time that Ruth and Tom have kissed and made up." The "kissed and made up" relates to Ruth's 1930 elopement at age seventeen to a movie actor named Douglas Gilmore followed by Tom stopping his monthly allowance to Ruth. As time went on, Tom and Ruth grew very close and she'd be working with him during the final days of his circus.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above is the title lobby card for "The Vanishing Indian", the first episode of THE MIRACLE RIDER (Mascot, 1935). Chapter 1 had a running time of about 43 minutes. Note the face blaze with the diamond pattern on the horse along with the shortish white socks on the front legs. That isn't Tony Jr.



(From Old Corral image collection)

Above, Mix with one of several doubles for Tony Jr. in THE MIRACLE RIDER (Mascot, 1935) chapterplay. There's more on Tom Mix's many horses in the Trusty Steeds section on the Old Corral, including the several Tony Jr. lookalikes ridden by Mix and his stuntman/double Cliff Lyons.



(From Old Corral image collection)

Above from L-to-R are Charles Middleton as 'Zaroff', Jason Robards, Sr., and Tom Mix in a scene from Nat Levine's THE MIRACLE RIDER (Mascot, 1935). Middleton's greatest role was as Emperor Ming in the Flash Gordon serials.



(From Old Corral image collection)

Above, Tom Mix has Stanley Price corralled in a lobby card from THE MIRACLE RIDER (Mascot, 1935) chapterplay. Did ya catch the boo-boo in this lobby card? Take a gander at the left side holster on Mix and Price. They did an image reversal/flip when they produced this lobby card. Both Mix and Price wore their sixguns on the right side.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from L-to-R on horseback are Artie Ortego, unidentified player, Bob Kortman and Nick Thompson. Tom Mix and leading lady/heroine Joan Gale are standing.



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