The Great Train Robbery

Tom Mix rides a train through Glenwood Canyon in a scene from “The Great K&A Train Robbery.”

A century ago, in the early days of Hollywood and silent films, there was no bigger star of Western movies than Tom Mix.

The original white-hat-wearing, roping, riding cowboy hero of the silver screen, Mix starred in a staggering 291 films between 1909 and 1935, and he (and his trusty horse Tony) helped shape the Western film genre as much as anyone before or since.

A major celebrity who did his own stunts and produced and directed many of his own films, Mix was at the height of his powers in 1926 when he decided to come to Glenwood Springs to shoot his latest film, “The Great K&A Train Robbery.” Predictably, his appearance in town created quite a stir, and spectators were numerous during the film shoot, which mostly took place in Glenwood Canyon.

Mix had chosen the location because of the dramatic scenery and the railroad that still runs through the canyon. The towering cliffs allowed him to get cool aerial shots of the tracks, and for some of his stunts he needed places where he could jump onto a moving train. A tunnel near Hanging Lake proved to be just the spot.

Based on the true story of a foiled train robbery, the silent film was a sensation in its time, lauded for its realism and groundbreaking stunt work.

These days, it plays more like a humorous look back at filmmaking in its infancy. The movie would be unintentionally funny enough on its own, but those who see it at the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue get the benefit of GVR owner John Goss’ hilarious commentary, and the result is the best entertainment bang for your buck in the valley.

With tickets at $7 for adults and $5 for kids (with a la carte food and drinks available), “The Great K&A Train Robbery” is cheaper than matinee prices to a regular movie, and it’s a safe bet that you won’t find another film that’s anywhere near as entertaining. It’s small wonder that the screenings proved wildly popular in their first go-round at the Vaudeville Revue last year, and it explains why Goss, who was skeptical about the whole endeavor when he started, brought the film back.

“I’m really surprised at how well people have been receiving ‘The Great K&A Train Robbery,’” Goss said. “People come up to me after the shows all the time and tell me they didn’t expect it to be so much fun.”

Unfortunately, between the Vaudeville Revue’s holiday show and the upcoming spring show, there was only space on the calendar for three screenings this winter. The first, last Saturday, was well attended, and Goss expects the final two, tonight and Feb. 2, both at 7 p.m., to draw well over 100 people. There’s a good chance both shows will sell out, so get your tickets now at gvrshow.com.

In addition to its familiar locations, “The Great K&A Train Robbery” has another fascinating link to Glenwood Springs. One of Goss’ most treasured items at the Vaudeville Revue is his 1918 Wurlitzer Photoplayer, an organ-like instrument capable of creating all kinds of sounds. It’s a contraption with which Mix was familiar.

“It’s the very same Photoplayer that made the noises for the movie at its 1926 premiere at the Liberty Theater in Yakima, Washington,” Goss said.

That interesting little tidbit of history is just one of many that Goss sprinkles throughout his commentary (along with plenty of jokes and funny stories, of course), making the evening not just entertaining but also educational. Audiences learn about old filmmaking, the early days of Glenwood Springs and the first, very brief film appearance of an actor who would go on to one day hold Mix’s title of America’s favorite film cowboy.

Anyone who hasn’t seen the movie should make a point of trying to go, but if you can’t get in tonight or next week, don’t fret. The movie has done so well that Goss will likely bring it back this summer, and it’s opened his eyes to the possibility of other doing something similar with other vintage films.

“I’m thinking about bringing back other classic silent movies,” he said, “ones that people might be familiar with, and maybe doing the same thing, telling a lot of stories and having fun with it and being goofy.”  

When that time comes, if it’s anywhere near as fun as “The Great K&A Train Robbery,” Goss will almost certainly end up with another winner on his hands.

Todd Hartley is the special sections editor for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at todd@aspendailynews.com.

Special Sections Editor