The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

The Heart of Texas Ryan (Excusive Features Inc., 1917)


(Reissued as Single-Shot
, 1923)

Excellent example of early Mix Western


Tom Mix made a great number of one- and
two-reelers for William N Selig and many have been lost. This feature-length
movie, however, survives and it contains much of the Tom Mix magic.

We are in South West Texas and Single-Shot
Parker has fallen for a photo of the ranch-owner’s daughter Texas Ryan (Bessie
Eyton), who returns from college. After that, it’s a straight
poor-cowboy-loves-rich-girl story. Of course he wins her, even though she is
wooed by a State Senator. How does he win her? By daring deeds, of course! He
chases rustlers, captures their chief, beats the crooked sheriff in a saloon
brawl – in fact we have many of the ingredients of the classic Western.
Five reels!
We have come a long way since The Great Train Robbery in 1903. We are in well-photographed California (it was filmed on
the Newhall ranch). The cowboys have authentic rigs, ride well and look the
part. There’s a lot of hokey Owen Wister-style dialogue on the inter-title cards but
that’s OK. Tom does splendid stunts, leaping from his horse Blue (Tony came
later) onto a moving stagecoach, which then crashes down a hillside. He throws
himself off his horse and falls down a cliff (Blue does too), and so on. He
bulldogs a steer and generally impresses Texas Ryan, for everyone knows that a girl is mightily enamored of a man who throws down a cow.
Dear Texas…
The villain is a Mexican rustler (this was
standard) who wants Texas Ryan but she spurns him and Tom runs him off for the
dirty foreigner he is. We are a long way from political correctness. There’s
some pretty low comedy when Tom gets drunk in the town of Cactus Bend on July 4th and has fun with some fireworks. He sets the town’s general store alight.
Such larks!

Texas Ryan races to Tom’s rescue when Mandero,
the mean Mexican, is going to shoot him. She uses a pretty sporting car and
skids to a halt in the plaza with great dash (Tom Mix Westerns had no complexes
about using modern cars and planes).
Tom with his great pal Sid Jordan
It started out as a Zane Grey story but they
couldn’t get the rights so the plot veered off on its own slightly erratic way.
Never mind, it’s huge fun.

It was directed by EA Martin, his fourth silent Western
of six. He did two more with Tom Mix the same year, Delayed in Transit and The
Saddle Girth
, which I haven’t seen; I don’t know if they still exist.
Martin’s real claim to fame was as animal photographer on the 1918 version of Tarzan of the Apes
Bessie Eyton was a big Selig star. She was taken up because her red hair photographed a lustrous black. Her first big role was a Tom Mix Western, The Sheriff of Tuolomne, in 1911.
Texas Ryan was the last film Mix made for Selig, who was going through bad times and cutting back. Tom moved to Fox, where (at first) he got bigger budgets and a much bigger salary. He was on his way to becoming one of the first Hollywood megastars.

He was of course to become the fancy-rigged hootin’
shootin’ cowboy of the silver screen and the Western hero of the late 20s and early 30s but it is good to see him in a very early
movie in authentic William S Hart-ish garb. The Heart of Texas Ryan, sometimes known
without the definite article, is definitely a must-see as an example of an ‘early’
Tom Mix (it wasn’t that early; he’d been making movies for 6 years) and an early feature-length


4 Responses

  1. I highly recommend Clifford Irving's novel "Tom Mix and Pancho Villa." It's now available as an e-book. Delightful read that sparked a major interest for me in the Mexican Revolution.

  2. Yes, I've heard about this book. Thanks for the tip. I might try it.
    By the way, the best novel on Villa for me was The Friends of Pancho Villa by James Carlos Blake, an imagined autobiography of the odious Rodolfo Fierro.
    Thanks for your comment.

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