Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Heart of Texas Ryan - 1917

Country: United States
Director: E.A. Martin
Writer: Gilson Willets (scenario)
Stars: George Fawcett, Bessie Eyton and Frank Campeau
Release Date: 26 February 1917 (USA)
Also known as: El Desafío de Single Parker (Spain - video title); Light of Western Stars (USA - working title); Single Shot Parker (USA - reissue title)
Filming Locations: Tom Mix's ranch, Newhall, California, USA
Production company: Selig Polyscope Company (Red Seal Plays)
Runtime: 56 min  | Spain: 45 min (VHS version)
Sound Mix: Silent
Color: Black and White
Plot Keywords: U.S. Cavalry | Mexico
Genres: Western
The Heart of Texas Ryan is an early Tom Mix Western, in which Mix plays Jack "Single-Shot" Parker, a ranch-hand who loves getting into a scrape, and Bessie Eyton plays the eponymous Texas Ryan, the ranch-owner's daughter who has been at college somewhere back East for the two years before the story opens.
In Texas's absence, Parker has only had her photograph for female company; and though he has never met her, he has fallen in love with her via the image. At one point, Parker even shows the photograph to his horse, with whom like all cowboys he has a peculiarly intimate relationship, as though to assure either himself or the horse that his real love object in fact has two legs rather than four.
But trouble attends Texas's return to the state whose name she bears. The local Marshall is in cahoots with a Mexican cattle-rustling band led by one José Mandero. Parker gets into a scrap with the Marshall, and so his cards are marked. But in any case enmity was around the corner as it turns out that among Texas's many suitors is not only the feeble old white man, Senator Murray Allison, but also the Mexican jefe Mandero himself.
Predictably enough, therefore, "Single-Shot" has to prove himself worthy of the only white woman in town by usurping an ineffective oligarchy and also beating off the criminal influence from the other side of the border. All this while at the same time showing himself worthy of civilized company, by learning to use brains rather than bullets, as the college girl instructs.
So Parker matches subterfuge (cattle rustling and town hall corruption) with subterfuge, infiltrating himself into the Mexican camp by pretending to be one of their sentinels. And the alternative to brute force turns out to be paying up the ransoms that the Mexicans demand: in a tit-for-tat plot, first Texas is ransomed for $2,000 and later she in turn ransoms Parker for the same sum, just minutes away from his impending execution in Mexico itself.
So it's not as though the Mexicans are simply brute savages. They are fully paid-up members of a monetary economy, who happily give up their hostages when paid the price that they (and everyone else, it seems) consider just. Moreover, the Mexican gang makes use of an automobile just as do the gringo rescuers, and even their stylized dress is not all that different from the equally distinctive cowboy outfit sported by Mix (even as yet without the latter's trademark hat). No wonder that these are people that you can in fact do business with.
But there is an ambivalence here: Parker doesn't fully obey the injunction to prefer brains over brawn. Whether that's because it's him or the Mexicans who are still not fully civilized remains unclear at the film's rather rushed conclusion. For the important thing is that the heart of Texas Ryan belongs to "Single-Shot," at least for the time being.  

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