The Great K & A Train Robbery
Black and white, silent, 1926
Lewis Seiler Productions, Fox Film Corporation
Runtime: 53 minutes
Starring: Tom Mix (Tom Gordon), Dorothy Dwan (Madge Cullen), William Walling (Eugene Cullen), Harry Grippe (DeLuxe Harry), Carl Miller (Burton Holt), Edward Peil Sr. (Bill Tolfree), Tony the Wonder Horse, Curtis 'Snowball' McHenry (Snowball, uncredited)
The opening title card reads:
"The Westerner-- Crack train of the K & A Railroad. Matching mighty power and terrific speed against the distances and dangers of the rocky mountain country."
The film opens with a high aerial shot of the Royal Gorge of Colorado, showing its steep rocky cliffs, the Arkansas river far below, and a train traveling on the tracks adjacent to the river.
Laid over close-up shots of the train, we see the text of a handbill, "$10,00 reward for the capture of the gang of train robbers terrorizing the K & A Railroad."
Inside a private rail car, Eugene Cullen, president of K & A Railroad, rides on an inspection trip with his personal secretary Burton Holt. Cullen laments that the K & A can't afford to make more bank shipments due to the continuing holdups by bandits. Compounding his troubles, Cullen reads a telegram that states, "Special agent we borrowed from Texas Western Railroad has not reported for duty. He must be afraid of the bandits."
In another part of the train, a black man named Snowball is visibly nervous while preparing drinks. Another member of the train's staff taps him on the shoulder, startling him, and asks if Snowball is afraid of the robbers. Snowball shows off how he has strung a gun to himself that will point out behind him when he tugs a cord in his vest. This contraption will remain a running joke throughout the film.
Meanwhile, underneath the president's car rests a railroad tramp, Harry DeLuxe. Harry has rigged a hammock under the car and swings comfortably as the train moves along.
Nearby, atop one of the steep cliffs of the gorge, Bill Tolfree and his gang of train robbers look down on the tracks and river below. Tolfree complains to one of his men that they haven't heard from Holt, Cullen's secretary, in over a week, and wonders aloud what they're paying him for.
Listening to this exchange just below the edge of the cliff is Tom Gordon. Gordon has strung a rope from the high rock face all the way back down to his horse, Tony. Gordon hangs from a harness on the rope, eavesdropping on the plans of the robbers.
Tolfree and his men spot Madge Cullen, the president's daughter, riding a horse and buggy down in the gorge. Tolfree decides to have his men kidnap Madge for a hefty ransom. Hearing this, Gordon realizes he has to lower himself down and save her. He covers his face with a mask to protect his identity.
Tolfree spots Gordon on his rope perch; there is an exchange of gunfire as Gordon lowers himself down to land astride Tony's saddle. As Gordon rides furiously ahead of Tolfree's men, he pursues Madge to rescue her. However, she believes he is a highwayman, and fights his efforts to pull her from the buggy, even when it loses a wheel.
Gordon manages to get Madge on his horse and rides with her to meet the train. As Cullen and Holt look on, they assume that Gordon is a kidnapper and that the men chasing him are a sheriff's posse. Gordon eludes Tolfree's men and rides up next to the train's caboose, gently placing Madge onto the train with her father. Gordon also boards the train, but quickly realizes that because Holt is with Cullen, he must continue to remain undercover. Wearing his mask, he stays in character as a highwayman and threatens his way away from Holt and Cullen-- but not before taking the time to smile and kiss Madge's hand.
Gordon escapes via a sleeper car and crawls under the train just in time to see DeLuxe Harry's hammock give way. Harry hangs on for his life while Gordon calls out to him. Gordon leaps from the train, jumps onto Tony (who has been faithfully trotting alongside the train), and returns to lasso Harry and pull him clear of the train. As Gordon rescues Harry, Madge looks on, clearly impressed. She stands at the end of the train holding his white hat, which he grabs with a flourish as the train passes him by.
Once they are out of harm's way, Harry thanks Gordon for saving his life. As they talk, Harry recognizes Gordon as his former captain during their military service together in the signal corps at Verdun. Gordon explains that he is a detective working undercover on the K & A robberies and that he has discovered Holt is crooked. He enlists Harry to help with the task of thwarting the gang. Harry enthusiastically agrees, and the two ride off together on Tony.
That night, Gordon and Harry approach Cullen's western residence. Madge stares dreamily from her veranda, and Gordon watches her, obviously smitten. Gordon approaches the house to find out Holt's next move; he leaves Harry behind to watch Tony and keep the horse from following him. Up in her room, Madge reads from "Romantic Highwaymen of History, illustrated," dreaming of Gordon as Dick Turpin.
Gordon hides in the bushes near Cullen's office window, and listens as he and Holt discuss how and when they will send their next bank shipment of gold notes. Cullen decides to place the notes on the #10 Special the next day, and Holt agrees.
As Gordon listens, he is spotted by two hired hands. They take a shot at him but miss, sending the bullet inside Cullen's office. The shot frightens Madge in her room upstairs, and she gets her gun. The shot also sends Tony into action, and he pulls away from Harry to follow Gordon into the house.
Gordon returns fire and escapes into Cullen's home, finding his way to Madge's room. She tries to hold him up with her pistol, but he sweet-talks his way into escape, promising that he'll tell her a secret the next day if she'll let him go free. When her father and Holt enter the room, she pretends to have seen nothing.
Tony enters the house with Harry on his heels. Gordon mounts Tony, picks up Harry, and the three dive off the veranda into the swimming pool below. Madge watches happily as the heroes escape the grounds unharmed.
Cullen, afraid Gordon has overheard their plans for the gold bonds, accepts a suggestion from Holt that they transport the bonds on their own train and send decoys on the #10 Special.
After their escape, Gordon and Harry split up-- Harry is to keep an eye on Cullen and Holt while Gordon will wait up the tracks for the robbers. Hiding in a compartment under the train, Harry overhears Holt tell Tolfree where the money will be hidden. Tolfree announces that he and his men will rob the president's train after the second tunnel.
Harry races ahead on the tracks to find Gordon, whom he finds on the other side of the raging river. Unable to make himself heard over the river noise, Harry uses signal flags to tell Gordon when and where the robbers will strike. Gordon races ahead on Tony to meet the train. In order to reach the other side of the river in time, he uses a zip-line and bucket to transport himself over the rapids. Tony moves along on his own to find his own crossing at a footbridge farther down the tracks.
Gordon reaches the train in time to leap on the top of the cars as they pass through the first tunnel. He is waiting when the bandits stop the train to the steal the strongbox, lassoing it just in time and throwing it to Harry on the ground.
While the train is stopped, Holt, Cullen, and his daughter have disembarked from the caboose, and they see Harry running with the box. Holt shoots Harry in the leg as he tries to escape. As the three gather around him, Harry tells Cullen the truth about Holt, and Cullen chooses to believe the tramp. Panicked, Holt then takes the strongbox at gunpoint, and joins the bandits as they pull away with the train, with Gordon still shooting it out on the top of the cars.
As the train pulls away, Cullen leaves to flag down the #10, and Madge stays with with wounded Harry, who confesses to her everything about Gordon's identity. When Gordon and Tony return to the pair, Gordon announces he will return with both the strongbox and the bandits, reassuring his friend and kissing Madge as he goes.
Gordon rides down the tracks and watches from the bushes as the bandits leap off the train before it enters another tunnel. After the train has passed, the men wade into the river and swim underwater to reach their hideout in a hidden cave behind what appears to be a stone cliff wall.
Gordon follows the bandits into the cave and creates a distraction to get the drop on them. Holt nearly foils his plans by sneaking up behind Gordon with a rifle, but Gordon manages to fight the group by hand and regain control. He sends them back out the way they came, where Cullen's men from the #10 special are waiting by the riverside with rifles drawn. Gordon emerges from the water and hands over the strongbox and the bandits to Cullen. The train pulls away with Gordon and Madge kissing on the caboose and Tony trotting just behind them.
Plot keywords: Train robbery, railroad, undercover detective, mistaken identity, love triangle, horse as main character
Scenery: sheer rocky cliffs, Arkansas river, railroad and train shots, Royal Gorge of Colorado