Monday, March 21, 2016


MYTHICITY: (1) *fair,* (2) *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Ken Maynard, whose outfit included one of the biggest ten-gallon hats ever seen on a serial cowpoke, acquits him pretty well in a 1932 oater involving a mysterious costumed man, but pretty much loses his way in a 1940 opus where he himself plays the mystery man.

TOMBSTONE CANYON boasts a somewhat tighter script than most B-westerns. Ken (no last character name), an adult orphan who's never known anything of his origins, gets a message that he may find out something about his past if he checks out the "Lazy S" ranch. He promptly gets pot-shotted at in the titular canyon (and he even wonders if his ambush has something to do with the canyon's forbidding name). He's rescued by Jenny, a rifle-toting young woman from the ranch, one of the comparatively rare times when a leading lady in a B-western took up arms against bad guys. Before Ken and the girl depart, they hear a loud banshee-like wail, and Jenny tells Ken that it's the sound of the Phantom Killer, a cloaked murderer who's killed off several people who worked for her ranch. Nothing deterred, Ken goes to work at the Lazy S.

There's a decent mystery-twist that brings together Ken's quest for identity with the revelation of the Phantom's secret. but the film's highlight is the mystery man's creepy, black-clad image. The Phantom Killer even follows the "Clutching Hand" trope of pulling his cape over the lower half of his face: not to keep his ID secret, but because he has a face disfigured by injury. He also proves to be a "perilous psycho," driven "loco" by a near-death trauma, and he has a pretty vivid fight with Ken about halfway through the film.

The previous year director Alan James had coincidentally finished THE PHANTOM, a modern-day "old dark house" picture in which guests were menaced by the cloaked figure of the title. That film wasn't too impressive in a directorial sense, but CANYON is marked by a fluid use of the camera and good closeups of Maynard and leading lady Cecilia Parker. That said, James' most well-renowned works of metaphenomenal cinema would probably be his collaborative work on 1937's DICK TRACY  and SOS COAST GUARD.

In contrast, I have almost nothing to say about 1940's PHANTOM RANCHER. Maynard, once again playing a guy with the first name of Ken, seeks out his uncle's ranch in response to a letter. The uncle is slain, and there's no shortage of suspects, since the uncle had the habit of buying out small ranches and foreclosing on them. In addition to seeking the murderer of his uncle, Ken dons a small cape and a domino mask to become "the Phantom Rancher." He also "gives to the poor" a la Robin Hood by donating sums of money to impoverished ranchers, who are of course the prey of the men who murdered Ken's uncle.

This one's so tedious that it's not even amusing to see that absolutely no one suspects the new arrival to the town of being the masked vigilante. And this time it's the writer, not the director, who has significant connections with such metaphenomenal serials as PERILS OF NYOKA and KING OF THE ROCKET MEN.

No comments:

Post a Comment