The Canyon of Missing Men (Syndicate, 1930)
The Missing Men are a gang of cattle rustlers. Their headquarters is in a canyon that can only be entered by an almost invisible cave, and so far, the law has yet to discover it. Among the gang is Dave Brandon (Tom Tyler). He’s just returned from Mexico, where the gang resells their stolen cattle, and aboard the train, he met Inez Sepulveda (Sheila LeGay) and the two part on friendly terms at the station.
To the gang’s eyes, this is a bit awkward, since her father, Juan Sepulveda, is the rancher they steal from. One of the gang in particular is eager to see the relationship quenched — that being Peg (Arden Ellis), because she’s in love with Dave herself. And so they plan to kidnap Inez. I’m not sure how exactly that’s going to help, but there it is.
For reasons that are beyond me, the gang tells Dave of their plan, which prompts the first utterance of Dave’s catchphrase, “That’s one thing I won’t do”. No matter, Slug (Bud Osborne) and Brill (Cliff Lyons) will do it themselves.
I’m not really clear what happens next. I think Slug and Brill attempt to kidnap Inez, but Dave follows them and a fight breaks out during which Inez escapes. Now, my confusion isn’t entirely the film’s problem — it’s mostly because my print has very poor contrast and night scenes like this one are almost unwatchable. At any rate, Dave winds up injured and is carried into the Sepulveda hacienda.
After recovering, Dave makes a full confession of his dastardly past to Inez, who forgives him. He then turns himself in to the sheriff, who wants Dave to reveal the entrance to the canyon, but that’s one thing he’ll not do. While they argue in the police station, a second kidnapping attempt successfully carries off Inez.
Juan pays the ransom money, but stealthily trails Slug and Brill back to the canyon when they come to collect. How did no one ever think to do this before? Juan penetrates into the secret canyon, but an accident exposes him and the gang kidnaps him as well. It becomes clear at this point that the gang’s plot might not be very well thought-out and that they have no end game planned at all. In a panic, they decide to dynamite the cave and leave the Sepulvedas trapped in the canyon.
Meanwhile, Dave, having learned of the kidnapping, escapes from jail to rescue Inez. Meanwhile meanwhile, some guy in a plaid shirt (there’s only one other name in the credits, so he must be Gimpy Lamb (Bobby Dunn)) frees the Sepulvedas for some reason. I imagine he’s the gang’s cook, and being just a hireling, has no allegiance to the gang itself and doesn’t want to leave two innocents for dead. I imagine that, but as far as his actual portrayal in the film goes, he’s just some guy who does something for some reason.
Now there’s a confusing scene that can’t be excused by the print quality. I can see it perfectly well, but after watching it twice, I’m still not sure what happened. The gang is setting the explosive, Dave is watching from higher up the cliff (I don’t get how, as the gang would have to be simultaneously inside and outside the cave for him to see what he sees from his vantage point), then there’s something about a rope? I don’t know what, but the film takes pains to establish that there’s a rope. Suddenly the sheriff is there — I don’t know where he came from, since only Dave knows where the cave is. Then Juan and Inez are standing next to Dave. Abruptly cut to town, where a posse arrests… some people… I guess gang members… they can’t be Slug and Brill — how could that possibly work? Finally, several silhouettes — I assume Dave and the Sepulvedas, but they might be anybody at all — walk out of the cave as the scene fades to black.
Some time later, the sheriff brings Dave to the Sepulveda hacienda. He’s being released on probation, he says, if Inez will agree to take custody of him. It takes a moment for Juan figure out the meaning, but once he does, he smiles and shakes Dave’s hand. Dave and Inez kiss.
There’s always something a bit sad with late silent films. The Canyon of Missing Men (1930) seems to have been received with very little fanfare on its premier. The only review I’ve spotted is in the March 23rd, 1930 issue of The Film Daily. They described it as “passably satisfying” — not exactly glowing praise. Had it been released two or three years earlier, it may have done well, but by 1930, even the best silent features would be relegated to B-picture status or only run by small, rural theatres that had yet to install a sound system. Even in the The Film Daily’s review, they note that all it could really hope for would be to fill out the second half of a double bill.
Missing Men was Tom Tyler’s last silent picture. I wonder if it was intended to be a talkie. As a silent, the film often struggles being coherent and in a few places fails entirely, but with the way the film is structured, I could imagine spoken dialogue might have helped.
My rating: I don’t like it.