Tombstone Canyon (1932)
“Packing a long-barreled Colt and a dynamite wallop, Ken Mason rides herd on a desperate gang in the lone gulch.”
Director: Alan James
Cast: Ken Maynard, Cecilia Parker, Sheldon Lewis
Synopsis: Maynard hears the cry of the weird masked “phantom” of Tombstone Canyon. The plot thickens when Maynard discovers a man with a key to his past has been murdered by the phantom.
Forgotten by all but the most ardent of 1930s and ‘40s B-movie Western fans, Ken Maynard was once a major draw for the Saturday matinee crowd. Tombstone Canyon is fairly typical of his output from the 1930s. It was distributed by World-Wide Pictures, a short-lived company which I’m willing to bet had one of the unintentionally funniest logos — a blonde woman holding two giant, spinning globes in front of her chest — in the history of motion pictures.
The plot is quite strange in a way. It has Maynard playing Ken Mason an orphan cowboy in search of his roots, who receives a note from a man inviting him to his home in order to learn the identity of his father. On his way, Mason is ambushed in Tombstone Canyon, but is rescued by Jenny Lee (Cecilia Parker – Riders of Destiny), who rode out to meet him at the request of the man in possession of the information he desires, and a mysterious figure named The Phantom (Sheldon Lewis – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), who scurries around the rocky landscape dressed all in black with his cape pulled across his mouth like a poor man’s Erik of the Opera. The Phantom, we later learn, has a vendetta against Alf Sykes (Frank Brownlee – Intolerance) and the workers at his Lazy S ranch. Every time he kills one of them he lets out a cry which I think is supposed to sound like the cry of a banshee, but which sounds more like someone falling down a well.
It was Sykes’ men who were taking pot-shots at Mason in the canyon — although we never learn why; nor do we learn exactly why Sykes is so hell-bent on framing Mason for every death that occurs during the film. Presumably, he believes Mason is the Phantom. Whatever the reason, he causes a whole heap of trouble for our hero, all of which results in a showdown which sees Mason hanging from a cliff as a bad guy stomps on his fingers. That’s right, folks, this film literally ends with a cliffhanger…
With his oversize hat and extravagant kerchief Maynard looks more like our image of a comedy cowboy than a heroic figure. He was in his mid-thirties when Tombstone Canyon was made, but he already has the beginnings of a paunch, the result of a dissolute lifestyle which would eventually result in full-blown alcoholism and an old age largely spent living in a trailer. He also talks to his horse Tarzan a lot, which is a bit worrying, although the horse doesn’t receive quite as much attention as he’s used to once Cecilia Parker (who would go on to play Mickey Rooney’s sister in the Andy Hardy movies) makes an appearance.
Tombstone Canyon is an ok movie of its kind; It’s cheaply made, briskly-paced, poorly acted, and over in an hour, but there’s something almost endearing in the way most of the actors stumble over their cues and in the badly choreographed fight sequences (punches are swung with all the finesse and accuracy of angry schoolboys in the playground).
(Reviewed 30th January 2014)