The Vanishing Legion
A 12-part serial
Black and white, 1931
Directed by Ford Beebe and B. Reeves Eason
Runtime: 220 minutes (12 chapters)
Starring: Harry Carey ('Happy' Cardigan), Edwina Booth (Caroline Hall), William Desmond (Milesburg Sheriff), Frankie Darro (Jimmie Williams), Philo McCullough (Stevens), Lafe McKee (J.T. Hornbeck), Rex the Wonder Horse (Rex, King of the Wild Horses)
This 12-part Mascot Serial tells the story of oil-drilling engineer Happy Cardigan as he tries to bring in a well despite attacks and sabotage from two separate and mysterious gangs. While there is plenty of horseback riding and cowboy-style heroics, this story takes place in the time period of automobiles, telephones, phonographs, electric streetlights, and short wave radios-- it is a western-themed serial set in a period contemporaneous to its filming, the very early thirties.
Chapter 1: The Voice from the Void
This serial opens with a group of cowboys trying to rope a wild horse. After the horse nearly kills one of the cowboys, they decide to shoot it. A boy named Jimmie Williams appears and begs the men not to shoot his horse. The cowboys react with disbelief, assuming no one could own or ride the wild beast. Jimmie explains that he saved the horse from a tangle of barbed wire-- he now calls the horse Rex. When Jimmie manages to make contact with and then ride Rex, the cowboys agree not to shoot.
Back home, Jimmie is approached by a stranger holding a photograph and looking for the boy's father, Jed Williams. The senior Williams tries to mount Rex in pursuit of the man as he rides away, but Rex injures him badly. Jimmie is forced to bring his father to town for help. It is there he discovers his father is wanted for murder. The Sheriff arrests his father and sends word to Milesburg, Oklahoma, where Williams is to be taken for trial.
The man with the photograph meets up with a gang of men on horseback. Some of them go off in search of Williams, while another group moves to prevent Happy Cardigan from bringing his trucks and drilling equipment into a nearby oil field.
At the office of Mr. J.T. Hornbeck, attorney for the Milesburg Oil Company, the Company's Board of Directors is meeting when news reaches them of Williams arrest. Caroline Hall, Hornbeck's secretary, takes a dictated telegram from Hornbeck to Williams. Hornbeck offers to defend Williams of his murder charge, but Hall mysteriously tears it up rather than deliver it.
The action cuts to room 403 in a brick apartment building. A group of gangsters wait in the room for instructions from "The Voice," a mysterious, disembodied voice that speaks to them over a radio. The Voice orders the men to get Williams.
Happy Cardigan, en route to the oil field with his convoy of trucks and equipment, is waylaid in town by a group of men who distract him with a fistfight. While Cardigan and his crew are engaged in the fight, some of the men cut the brake lines to the trucks.
Williams, with Jimmie's help, escapes the custody of the Sheriff, as well as from the clutches of The Voice's men, and father and son hide in one of Cardigan's trucks to make their escape.
Just before the trucks enter a hilly area, Cardigan finds a note from "The Vanishing Legion," warning him to go no further. He ignores it, and as the trucks begin down the steep grade to the oil field, their brakes give out-- Cardigan, Jimmie, and his father seem doomed to crash.
Chapter 2: The Queen of the Night Riders
Before the truck containing Jimmie and his father crashes, Jimmie manages to jump clear. Williams appears to die in the fiery wreck. Cardigan takes Jimmie under his wing.
Meanwhile, at Hornbeck's office, the Board of Directors is about to accept an offer from a Mr. Ashton to purchase the seemingly vexed oil fields. Ashton is the man who earlier carried the photograph of Jed Williams and who ordered attacks on Cardigan's trucks. Cardigan arrives on the scene and dissuades the Directors from the sale, claiming the constant attacks have probably been an attempt to drive down the value of the land. Jimmie privately tells Cardigan that Ashton is actually a man named Stevens, the brother of the man his father is accused of killing. Cardigan vows to get to the bottom of the trouble.
Jimmie rides back to the wreckage to find that his father escaped alive. He also overhears that Miss Hall and Stevens want to find his father. He also discovers that they want to disrupt Cardigan's activities at the oil field, but Miss Hall does not want Cardigan hurt.
Meanwhile, The Voice orders his men to crush Cardigan's camp at the oil field. A wild horse herd is stampeded through the camp.
Chapter 3: The Invisible Enemy
Miss Hall goes to the oil camp to prevent Cardigan from being hurt by the stampede. He suspects her motives for being there, but she will not confess to her role in the mayhem. In the chaos, Jimmie is grabbed from Cardigan's tent by his father and taken away to safety.
Miss Hall takes the injured Cardigan back to Hornbeck's place, where Stevens/Ashton is again trying to purchase the oil fields. Cardigan accuses Stevens of kidnapping Jimmie, and his plans to buy the property are dashed again.
Back in room 403, The Voice orders his men to get Cardigan from Hornbeck's house. The men try to get both Cardigan and Miss Hall, and appear to have them trapped at the top of the stairs.
Chapter 4: The Fatal Message
The Sheriff arrives in time to disperse the villains and rescue Cardigan and Hall. The Voice's men leave behind a pocket radio, through which The Voice conveys his messages. The radio is mysteriously shot before Cardigan or the Sheriff can use it to obtain further information.
Meanwhile, Jimmie and his father are captured by two men from the Vanishing Legion. Rex intervenes and tramples one of the captors, allowing Jimmie and his father to escape again. Jimmie is forced to split up with his father, and goes to Hornbeck to get legal help for his dad.
Back at the oil field, Cardigan receives a letter from Jimmie's father. The Voice's men come to steal it, and there is a struggle on the top of the well's rigging.
Chapter 5: The Trackless Trail
Cardigan prevails in the struggle on the well and captures one of the attackers. While delivering this man to the Sheriff, Cardigan arrives in time to get a call from Hornbeck's office-- Hornbeck has been tied up, and Miss Hall has been kidnapped. She was placed in a coat locker and carried out, but she left behind a trail of business cards to mark where the kidnappers took her.
Cardigan follows the trail of cards to room 403, where The Voice has demanded to see Miss Hall. Cardigan swoops to the rescue, but again the men manage to take Miss Hall away in the locker in the back of a truck. While he pursues the men in his car, Cardigan watches the truck crash over a small cliff with the locker still inside.
Chapter 6: The Radio Riddle
Miss Hall and the locker are thrown into a thicket of bushes during the crash and she escapes unscathed. She is picked up by two men from the Vanishing Legion and is carried off on horseback. The Voice's men escape the crash by jumping from the truck at the last second. Cardigan takes the men as prisoners and brings them back to the Sheriff
Jimmie follows Miss Hall and the Vanishing Legion to their ranch. There he overhears Miss Hall try to disband the Vanishing Legion, fearing Cardigan will be hurt by further action. Stevens disagrees and decides the Legion will ride without her permission in an attempt to get Hornbeck to tell them where Jed Williams is.
Cardigan brings his captives to the Sheriff, only to have someone at the Sheriff's office help them to escape. Jimmie phones in to inform them of the Vanishing Legion's plans to go after Hornbeck.
Cardigan goes to the ranch to help Hornbeck along with Miss Hall. The Vanishing Legion arrives and has both Hornbeck and Cardigan in hand.
Chapter 7: The Crimson Clue
The Voice is heard in the ranch, and there is some confusion as to where the sound is coming from. It is discovered that Miss Hall had a pocket radio in her possession; she declares she found it in the coat pocket of one of the oil company Board of Directors, Mr. Larabee. The Vanishing Legion goes after Larabee, leaving Hornbeck, Cardigan, and Miss Hall behind at the ranch. Jimmie helps them escape.
Cardigan goes to Larabee's house with Miss Hall to try to get some answers about The Voice. Larabee is about to tell Cardigan who The Voice is, but he is shot by an unknown assailant. When the Sheriff arrives, he believes Cardigan killed Larabee, allowing the real shooter to escape.
Chapter 8: The Doorway of Disaster
Miss Hall screams when a man knocks her down and escapes from Larabee's house in Cardigan's car. The Sheriff and Cardigan chase the man, who heads to Hornbeck's house. Jed Williams shows up at Hornbeck's house looking for assistance, and Hornbeck tries to shield him from the Sheriff After promising Jimmie he would help protect his father, Cardigan turns Williams over to the Sheriff Jimmie is stunned feels betrayed by Cardigan.
Word comes to Hornbeck's house that Larabee is alive. The Vanishing Legion manages to capture Larabee and take him away before the Sheriff can reach him. In the ensuing confusion, Williams escapes. Jimmie confronts Cardigan about turning over his father, and Cardigan explains he thought the Sheriff's office was the only truly safe place for Williams.
Miss Hall finally confesses to Cardigan that her name is Stevens-- she is the daughter of the man Jed Williams supposedly murdered. She wants to find Williams because she knows he didn't kill her father, and she believes he can lead her to the real killer. She admits to starting the Vanishing Legion with her uncle in an attempt to find her father's killer.
Miss Hall receives a letter with a clue to Williams' whereabouts. She, Cardigan, and Jimmie follow the letter's instructions to a building where she is led to a upper-story door that opens directly into thin air.
Chapter 9: When Time Stood Still
Miss Hall opens the door and nearly drops to her death, but is saved in the nick of time by Cardigan and Jimmie. Stevens is also waiting at the address, where he was trying to meet his niece, Miss Hall. After a struggle with Cardigan struggle, he leaves with Miss Hall to return to the ranch where he is holding Larabee for safekeeping.
When they arrive at the ranch, Stevens locks up Miss Hall to keep her from interfering with the Legion's plans. The Voice's men come for Larabee, and there is a gunfight as the Vanishing Legion tries to defend the ranch. Cardigan arrives in time to help the Legion, and Jimmie rides for the Sheriff The Legion uses dynamite to drive off The Voice's men, but an explosion happens too close to the house where Miss Hall is still locked away.
Chapter 10: Riding the Whirlwind
Instead of finding the Sheriff, Jimmie comes across the rest of the Legion and brings them back to the ranch to help Stevens and Cardigan. In the chaos of the gunfight, Jimmie is taken by The Voice's men as they retreat from the ranch.
On his deathbed, Larabee writes a note revealing the identity of The Voice. The nurse Stevens has hired to tend to him finds the note and hides it. When Miss Hall is knocked unconscious by the dynamite blast, Stevens and the nurse take her to town for medical attention. On the road, the nurse-- who is actually working for the Sheriff forces Stevens from the car at gunpoint, and takes Miss Hall to the Sheriff's office to be held there.
Cardigan, left alone at the ranch without a horse or a car, finds Larabee still barely alive. Larabee whispers the identity of The Voice into Cardigan's ear before dying. Cardigan, in need of a horse to rescue Jimmie from The Voice's men, saddles and breaks Rex. He rescues Jimmie with The Voice's men in hot pursuit.
Chapter 11: The Capsule of Oblivion
As Cardigan escapes with Jimmie, Stevens fortuitously captures Jed Williams. All four of them, and the rest of the Vanishing Legion, converge and agree to regroup at Cardigan's oil field camp, where they can keep Williams under protection and hatch a plan to catch The Voice.
Back at Hornbeck's office, the Board of Directors discuss the coming closure of Cardigan's contract, which ends at midnight that night. They all agree to let his contract expire, as they feel he is incompetent and don't expect him to strike oil.
Back at the camp, Cardigan and his men make a last ditch effort to strike oil by using nitroglycerin. The Voice's men attack the camp as the nitro is dropped into the well.
Chapter 12: The Hoofs of Horror
Oil is finally struck when the nitro drops, and the Vanishing Legion chases off The Voice's men. Cardigan phones Hornbeck to tell him that the well has come in, and requests that the Board of Directors meet at Hornbeck's house to discuss this turn of events. Cardigan then makes sure the Sheriff will also attend the meeting.
Miss Hall comes to the meeting with the Board of Directors. Cardigan brings Jed Williams and unravels the mystery. He explains that Williams sold the oil rights to the deceased Stevens and the surface rights to Hornbeck, and that the sole heir of the oil rights is Miss Hall. Hornbeck is revealed to be The Voice and the murderer of Stevens.
Hornbeck tries to escape on horseback, but Cardigan runs him down on Rex. Rex tramples Hornbeck to death.
Miss Hall and her uncle explain that the Vanishing Legion was formed to get her the rightful ownership of the oil rights, and she agreed to share the profits with all of them equally. She then includes Cardigan in the deal as well as Williams. She and Cardigan are then free to be together, as she has loved him all along.
Plot keywords: western theme set in modern period, horse as main character, oil, gangsters, nitroglycerin, dynamite, serial western
Scenery: scrubby, tree dotted desert, rocky terrain, small cliffs and hills
The Vanishing Legion is available on DVD.