The Miracle Rider was the last film of Tom Mix and his horse Tony, Jr. (Tony Sr. had departed this earthly realm). It is a sound serial from Mascot with twice the normal Mascot budget. Mix was 55 when he made this and showing it. Although his voice was deep and suitable for sound, and he was still in good shape, Mix looked his age and was now using a stunt double for complicated stunts. Mix had made several sound films for Universal, but they fared only moderately well. Mix had officially retired and was promoting his Tom Mix circus when he was talked back to the silver screen for one last go round. It is fortunate he did. The Miracle Rider was an astounding success, making both Mix and Mascot over ten times its investment. The serial is one of the better serials of the period, too, and so Mix went out on top, dying five years later in an automobile accident. Even though Mix had been out of the public eye for five years following Miracle Rider, his death caused a large outpouring of grief. Mix’s enigmatic life, career and tragic demise are the stuff of legend.
The Miracle Rider begins with the history of native Americans and how they were treated by white men. Daniel Boone (who looks nothing like Fess Parker) warns white men to leave the Indians alone, to no avail. Later, Davey Crocket (who looks nothing like Fess Parker) warns white men to leave the Indians alone, to no avail. Buffalo Bill does the same, again to no avail. Tom’s on-screen father, a Texas Ranger. is killed by white men as he tries to protect Indian land. Many years later, the adult Tom Mix, as “Tom,” steps into his father boots as a Texas Ranger himself.
Tom is made an honorary chief of a tribe and is called “the Miracle Rider.” The evil oil baron with the very serial-sounding name of Zaroff (played by Charles Middleton, so memorable a villain in films like Mystery Ranch and Flash Gordon) is not pleased. Zaroff wants the Indians off the land so he can mine something called X-94, which is an explosive that can make kings and queens grovel at his feet. The Ravenhead reservation is rich in X-94 deposits and now, but with Texas Ranger Tom being made an honorary chief, this complicates things.
The Miracle Rider is another B western that mixes sci fi elements and modern automobiles within the old west. Zaroff receives transmissions from a radio control apparatus, which bleeps a lot. The transmission informs Zaroff that Europe is wanting more orders of X-94. What is an evil madman to do? Well, in addition to henchman Jason Robards (Sr.) Zaroff hooks up with a Judas of an Indian named Longboat, who is a half-breed aspiring to be chief. With Longboat’s help, Zaroff makes the tribe believe they are cursed by the great firebird, courtesy of some x-94 effects. Zoroff’s has an evil scientist assistant, hiding in a secret lab, who makes X-94 bullets and a robot glider, meant to scare the Indians off the land.
Chief Black Wing (Bob Frazer) will not be frightened by the robot glider, so he is dispensed with. Tom goes after Black Wing’s murderers, jumping from Tony, Jr. onto a speeding truck carrying a shipment of X-94.
Black Wing’s daughter Ruth, played by Joan Gale, has the arrow that killed her father and she knows that this is no arrow made by a Ravenhead. But, the arrow is stolen and, in pursuit of the thief, Tom finds himself trapped inside a flying robot glider!
There’s plenty of intrigue and derring-do atop oil rigs, in automobiles driving off cliffs, amidst explosions, and inside secret caves. There seems to always be a hidden telephone inside a rock for henchmen to call Zaroff. Tony, Jr. sees plenty of action too, and the whole serial has the feel of a wild and wacky 20th century wild west show being filtered through primitive sci fi sensibilities.
Zaroff tells Tom, “If it wasn’t for your meddling…”, sounding just like a Scooby Doo villain. Of course, Tom saves the day and lives to ride off into one more sunset.
Surprisingly, Tom is not given a love interest at all. Perhaps a white man hooking up with an Indian girl would have been too much for 1935 audiences, even if she is being played by a white girl. There are no actual Indians in Miracle and, par for Hollywood’s course, the greatest Indian is a white man, ala Dances With Wolves; but unlike the mawkish, overblown Kevin Costner film, this Miracle is fun.