This is Western movie star Tom Mix.
He made about 300 films during his movie career, from 1909 to 1935, and he often performed his own stunts (complete with injuries). Tom Mix is often credited with establishing the Western Movie Hero persona.
He was the Real Deal, by all accounts. He toured with wild west shows, he owned a ranch, and he owned a circus(!).
Also: He made a lot of moola. They say during his career he earned over $6M US (approx. $110M US today), but he spent it, too, thanks to a succession of marriages and costs associated with the aforementioned circus.
According to IMDb, he never regarded himself as a Great Actor. “Once when a director asked him to change expressions, he responded, ‘Which one do you want? One? two? or three?’.”¹
Yet, he was a true entertainer. “I try to make the pictures so that when a boy pays, say, 20 cents to see it, he will get 20 cents worth, not 10,” he said. “If I drop, you see, it would be like putting my hand in his pocket and stealing a dime.”²
Mix worked for three different studios, starting with the Selig Polyscope Company in 1909, but he moved to Fox Film Corporation in 1919 when Selig ran into money troubles. His last major studio was Universal, which he joined in 1932.
One of the films Mix made during his Universal years was the B Western, Terror Trail (1933). Mix plays a rancher pitted against a gang of horse thieves. Alas! Unbeknownst to him, the secret leaders of the gang are a prominent military officer and a local sheriff.
Mix was 53 years old when this film was released, but he’s every inch the Movie Star with his slicked-down hair and shiny cowboy gear, ordering Bad Guys around and showing everyone Who’s Boss. He jumps on horses, shoots a mean pistol, and lassos rustlers by the pair.
There’s no doubt Who’s In Charge around here.
We’re excited about Terror Trail because a few weeks ago, our favourite husband came home with this:
This is a 16mm film, courtesy of Castle Films, a company that – in the 1930s – began distributing Hollywood movies for at-home viewing.
In his book, Castle Films: A Hobbyist’s Guide, author and film historian Scott MacGillivray says Castle carried over 300 titles at any given time; he estimates the total collection was over 1,000 titles. (You can see samples here.)
The catalogue included films by Abbott & Costello, the Marx Brothers, and, of course, our pal Tom Mix. Other types of films were available, too, such as travelogues and highlights of sporting events.
“For 40 years, Castle Films were everywhere,” writes MacGillivray. “Every camera store offered them, and every mail-order house having anything to do with movies carried them.”³
Castle Films was the brainchild of Eugene Castle, who began working as a cameraman for Pathé News in 1917. He felt movies had an audience outside of theatres, and in the 1920s he began distributing educational films to schools and community groups.
In 1937, Castle started a direct mail business specializing in movies to watch at home. The early films were Very Condensed versions of theatrical releases; even so, by December of that year, Castle had a dozen titles in circulation.
After WWII, Universal (d.b.a. United World) bought into Castle Films and began releasing old Universal titles that would never again see the inside of a theatre. One of these titles was Terror Trail.
In 1977, Castle Films was re-tooled as Universal 8, but it folded in 1984 when home videos started Taking Over the market.
As for our pal Tom Mix, he died in a car accident in 1940. Although his wealth and Hollywood career were pretty well spent, we can still enjoy the movies that remain – and tip our hat to one of the first Big Western Stars.
¹IMDb. (Retrieved July 5, 2019.) Tom Mix: Biography.
³MacGillivray, Scott. (2004) Castle Films: A Hobbyist’s Guide. Lincoln, NE, USA: iUniverse Inc., p. xviii.
Terror Trail: starring Tom Mix, Naomi Judge, Arthur Rankin. Directed by Armand Schaefer. Written by Jack Cunningham. Universal Pictures, 1933, B&W, 58 mins.