The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Sky High (Fox, 1922)

Plane stunts over the Grand Canyon

Tom Mix was 42 by the time
he made Sky High and though at the height of his fame, he was already
looking stocky. The movie is the greatest fun and a very good illustration of
what cowboy films were becoming after William S Hart’s earnest authenticity
gave way to flamboyant Hollywood antics.
Nice poster
In this story Tom is Grant
Newburg, Deputy Inspector of Immigration, who is patrolling Arizona to keep
illegals at bay. Curiously, the border-jumpers from Mexico are Chinese,
probably because anti-Chinese prejudice was still acceptable then. On one
inter-title card, Tom’s boss, the inspector, tells him, “Two hundred chop suey-eating
Chinamen will try to cross the border near Calexico without bothering to ask
Uncle Sam. What’s more it’s suspected they’re smuggling jewels and laces!” The
idea of Chinese people running lace across from Mexico into Arizona has a certain
quaintness to us but evidently seemed quite a threat then.
I think I’ll get off here
The great thing about Sky
is that it is shot in and around the Grand Canyon. The area made, of
course, a spectacular setting and even on the grainy print we see today, the
photography (Benny Kline) is pretty spectacular. It is also an ideal setting
for Tom to gallop along the rim and alternately shimmy up and abseil down in order to
save and protect a maiden.  Westerns in
the 20s had no complexes about period setting and were quite happy to include
cars and planes, and the aerial shots in this movie are remarkable. Tom tells
the pilot of his biplane to dive, then he slips down a rope and drops off into
the Colorado River.
Tom’s stunt
Eva Novak is the heroine to
be rescued. She has come out West from a fashionable Chicago seminary all
unawares of the activities as human
trafficker of her guardian, the bad egg J Farrell MacDonald. She saves Tom when he is bound with his hands behind his back by
the bad guys: she throws him a sardine can which he manages to open behind him and uses to
cut his ropes. I can’t even open sardines from the front so that shows you how
great Tom was.
Sid Jordan is in it, of course, as the chief heavy. Sid
(1889 – 1970) was a half-Cherokee from Muskogee and Tom’s great pal. They had
been night marshals together in Dewey, Oklahoma. Sid was in many of Tom’s
movies right from the early days. He was famous for his stunts – as was Tom
himself, of course – as well as being Tom’s drinking and wenching companion in
off-camera extra-mural activities.
Tom and Sid
The movie was directed and
written by Lynn Reynolds, who had acted in a couple of very early silent
Westerns in 1913/14 but became a noted writer and director of them in the
1920s. He was to do Riders pf the Purple Sage with Tom later. He came to a rather dramatic end at a party in 1927.
Lynn Reynolds, died of GSW, 1927
Reynolds’s story races along and all in all Sky High is a very good example of a Tom Mix silent.
Of course some of us harbor a sneaking idea that Tom Mix really was the greatest cowboy of them all.

And boy, you should see
Tom’s hat.

Good stuff

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