MYSTERY MOUNTAIN (1934)
Article 2870 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-17-2009
Posting Date: 6-22-2009
Directed by Otto Brewer and B. Reeves Eason
Featuring Ken Maynard, Tarzan, Verna Hilie
Railroad detective Ken Williams is trying to discover the identity of a criminal known as the Rattler, who is trying to prevent the completion of a railroad tunnel through a mountain.
For me, the real mystery of this western serial is – what’s the fantastic content? Left to my own devices, I would have been at a loss. I might have guessed that the Rattler would have fallen under the category of “masked” killers, but usually this means the killer is wearing a hood or something that makes them look scary. In this case, the Rattler’s “primary” mask (see below) is a fake set of glasses with a nose and moustache, which makes him look like Father Guido Sarducci, who is not scary. Since I couldn’t quite accept that, I checked Don Willis’s guide to see what he had to say about it, and he mentions a plot element in which the Rattler disguises himself as various other characters through the use of very convincing “secondary” masks. I suppose this is a fantastic concept (and one I’ve always found singularly unconvincing), but I’ve seen this trick done so often in the movies that I tend to think of it as a movie convention rather than as an honest-to-goodness element of fantastic content. Unfortunately, that’s about all there is; I’ll leave it your own judgment whether this qualifies, but for me, it doesn’t.
As for the serial itself, it’s rather ordinary. Since most of the action is on horses, we don’t have the nonstop bailout cliffhangers, which is good. Ken Maynard is likable enough, Syd Saylor’s comic relief avoids being totally annoying, and the rest of the cast is forgettable, though Gene Autry appears in a small (and uncredited) role. The real scene-stealer here is Ken Maynard’s horse, Tarzan, who does some great tricks on occasion and ends up being the one to unmask the killer at the end. Otherwise, this one is run-of-the-mill.