Cast & Crew
Robert North Bradbury
"Shot down by a scoundrel who steals the secret of a rich gold mine, Baird leaves his mine and little son to Sutherland and his pal Toby. Sutherland locates the mine and also finds a homeless Girl, Carolyn Grey, who is trailing her sister's betrayer. The two fall in love, but the murderer of Baird, Kincaird, is on the trail of the gold, and steals a quantity in Sutherland's absence. By a ruse Avalyn makes the villain think she is also a crook in order to keep in touch with him until Sutherland arrives. When he does he refuses to listen to Avalyn's explanation, but lets the couple go for her sake. Further attempts on Kincaird's part lead to his capture and the restoration of faith between Sutherland and the girl." [from Kinematograph Weekly 30 Jul 1925.]
Robert North Bradbury
Desert Rider -
Forthright and taciturn William S. Hart emerged from the pack as the leading cowboy star of this era. By the early 1920s, many cowboy actors had followed in Hart's boot-steps, hoping to become big-screen stars. Most appeared in B-Westerns with narratives so formulaic that plots were just a series of clichés. But each cowboy actor gave the Western hero his own spin. And, that was the attraction for fans--the stars. Each Western star exhibited a unique personality, wore a recognizable costume, excelled at specific cowboy skills, and rode a distinctive horse with a name that appeared in the screen credits.
Though the careers of many of these Western stars did not survive the coming of sound, and their names are unknown to us now, they thrived during the silent era, pleasing fans with their heroic feats and cowboy skills. Among those stars was Jack Hoxie.
Born John Hartford Hoxie in or near Indian Territory in Oklahoma, Jack grew up on a ranch in Idaho where he perfected his riding skills. Like many Hollywood cowboys of the silent era, Hoxie got his first taste of show business on the rodeo circuit. From there, he joined the Wild West show of Dick Stanley. Riding horses, performing stunts, and re-creating famous shoot-outs in a Wild West show is similar to doing it in front of a camera, so Hoxie and dozens of other cowboys headed to Hollywood to work as extras.
With his bulky frame, massive face, and low hairline, Hoxie was not conventionally handsome. However, he was pulled from the pack to star in two-reel Westerns as Hart Hoxie during the 1910s. In 1919, he landed the title role in the 15-part serial Lightning Bryce, which became the turning point in his career. Now calling himself Jack Hoxie, he starred in a series of Westerns for independent producer Ben F. Wilson who released through Arrow Pictures. Jack's half-brother Al Hoxie worked as his double and stunt man on these films before becoming a Western actor in his own right.
In 1922, Jack signed with a production company called Sunset Productions owned by Anthony J. Xydias. Sunset's Westerns exhibited better production values than Arrow's and gave Hoxie a higher profile as a cowboy star. Hoxie's last film for Sunset Productions, Desert Rider (1923), is representative of his Westerns at this time.
In Desert Rider, Hoxie stars as Jack Sutherland, owner of the Diamond X Ranch. His right-hand man, Toby (Frank Rice), helps him on the ranch and provides comic relief for the audience. While riding the range one day, Jack and Toby are flagged down by a young boy (Walter Wilkinson), whose father (Tom Lingham) has been shot by Rufe Kinkaid (Claud Payton), identified as "a trickster" in the intertitle. As the father dies, he reveals the location of a gold strike, which is his legacy to his son, Mickey. Jack and Toby take in Mickey and introduce him to ranch life. Also lost in the desert is a beautiful young woman from Kentucky, Carolyn (Evelyn Nelson), who stumbles across the ranch's remote cabin. Jack, who is watching over the far corners of the ranch, finds Carolyn and nurses her back to health at the cabin.
In the meantime, Rufe tries to figure out the location of the gold strike based on a map he stole from Mickey's father. When he accidentally sets fire to the map, he needs to find another way to get to the gold. While Carolyn is in the cabin alone, Rufe barges in and steals the gold nuggets that Jack had uncovered. Carolyn agrees to leave with him to protect Jack. It is up to Jack to rescue Carolyn, bring the killer of Mickey's father to justice, and preserve Mickey's stake in the gold discovery.
While Desert Rider features the narrative elements typical of B-Westerns, including the comic sidekick, the leading lady in need of rescue, sentimental depictions of children and family, and a rousing climactic chase scene, fans of Jack Hoxie went to his films because of what he brought to the Western hero. His appeal was based on his skills as a cowboy, which had been fine-tuned while on the rodeo circuit. An excellent rider, Hoxie raced at breakneck speed on his white horse, Scout, while in pursuit of Rufe Kinkaid. He was not only tall and erect in the saddle but his seat was solid so he barely moved even at a full gallop. Fluid dismounts and mounts made him more graceful on his horse than off.
Born in Arizona, Evelyn Nelson, who played Carolyn, was also familiar with life on a ranch. She began her career in comedy shorts in 1920 before turning to Westerns. She had costarred with Hoxie at Arrow, then moved to Sunset Productions with him in 1922. Hoxie and Nelson made a good team onscreen. Lacking much education, he struggled to read scripts and found it difficult to perform in scenes with serious emotions. Nelson's naturalness on camera seemed to balance or complement his awkwardness. They costarred together in 11 Westerns. Unfortunately, Desert Rider would be her last film. It seems she had fallen in love with Wallace Reid. Unsubstantiated rumors claimed that he had broken off their relationship because he was married. After Reid died of a drug overdose, Nelson was despondent. She committed suicide in June 1923, around the time that Desert Rider was released.
Hoxie's popularity caught the attention of Universal, who signed him to a contract in 1923. At Universal, where he was second only to Hoot Gibson, the action in his Westerns became more elaborate. He added stunts and leaps to chase scenes, and he perfected transfers from his horse to moving vehicles. The peak of his career was his role as Buffalo Bill Cody in The Last Frontier (1926).
Hoxie's difficulties with reading scripts were exacerbated by the coming of sound. He struggled to memorize dialogue, something he did not have to worry about in silent films. He starred in a handful of sound films before leaving Hollywood in 1933. Hoxie returned to performing in Wild West shows and circuses. In an act billed as "The Last Round Up," he portrayed such Wild West legends as Kit Carson, Wild Bill Hickok, and Buffalo Bill. According to newspaper articles of the era, he was joined in the arena by his third wife, Dixie Starr, and their son, Jack Jr.
Producer: Anthony J. Xydias for Sunset Productions, distributed by Aywon Film
Director: Robert North Bradbury
Cinematography: Bert Longenecker
Cast: Jack Hoxie (Jack Sutherland), Evelyn Nelson (Carolyn Grey), Frank Rice (Toby Jones), Claud Payton (Rufe Kinkaid), Walter Wilkinson (Mickey Baird), Tom Lingham (Dan Baird), and Scout the Horse.
1923 Black & White 57 mins.
By Susan Doll