Cast & Crew
In the hills outside the Arizona ranch of the tyrannical Henry Steele, a deputy sheriff is killed by Mudo, a renegade Apache in Steele's service. Mudo, according to Steele, had his tongue cut out because he was a liar in his youth. Sometime later, Bob Sanborn, a ranger sent to apprehend Steele, rescues a man shot by one of Steele's Apaches. The man tells Bob that Steele is trying to run the homesteaders out of the valley. At the nearby town of Paraiso, Bob is warned by his friend, Buck Johnson, that Steele will not countenance anyone who will not bow down to him. On his approach to the ranch, Bob sees a woman fall from her horse while trying to flee. Bob carries her to the ranch, where Steele, who introduces the woman as his niece, Jane Emory, invites Bob to stay. That evening, as Steele perversely plays a wedding march on his piano, Jane hides a note for Bob asking for help. After Bob retrieves the note, Steele demands it, but Bob denies any knowledge of it. Later, Bob visits Jane and learns that Steele is not her uncle, but that he was her deceased father's business partner; after her father's death, Steele sent for her, but has not as yet transferred her father's share to her as he had agreed. The next day, after Steele spies them speaking together, he escorts Bob to the end of his ranch and warns him never to return. Bob responds that he will return when he is ready and leaves, narrowly escaping bullets shot by Mudo and Tonto, another Apache working for Steele. When Steele tells Jane that he has made plans to marry her the next day, Artie Brower, Steele's British servant who was devoted to Jane's father, overhears and rides to Paraiso where he alerts Bob and Buck. After Bob wires for more rangers, he finds that Tonto and Mudo have abducted Artie. Bob hurries back in time to rescue Artie who, at Steele's command, has been strapped to a runaway, unbroken horse. At night, Bob climbs into the ranch house and struggles with Steele, before a large group of Indians subdue him. Artie sneaks in and unties Bob, who then rescues Jane just as Steele, who has entered her room, is coming toward her. Bob and Jane ride to an old Apache stronghold in the hills, while Artie dies trying to stop the pursuing Apaches. While attacking from behind, Mudo loses his balance after hitting Bob and falls to his death. As Bob and Jane embrace, Steele threatens to shoot them both if Jane doesn't stand aside. She refuses, but Buck, leading the rangers, shoots Steele's pistol from his hand. Before Bob can serve Steele a warrant for murder, he tells Jane that the ranch is hers, and says to Bob, "Young man, if you want to serve that on me, you'll have to do it in Hell!" Steele then jumps to his death. As the Indians are rounded up, Jane asks Bob to be manager of her ranch, and he agrees as they kiss and embrace.
C. Curtis Fetters
While the screen credits say that this film was from the novel The Killer by Stewart Edward White, the work was actually a short story collected in a book with the same title. The Fox trade paper advertising billing sheet calls the film Death Valley, but no evidence has been located to indicate that the film was ever released under this title. According to reviews, when the film showed at the Winter Garden theater in New York, it was billed on the marquee as The Killer, the name of the story on which it was based and the film's working title, while the actual print shown in the theater was titled Mystery Ranch. The Variety reviewer surmised that because Westerns did not go over big on Broadway while gangster pictures did, the former title was used. While Virginia Herdman is listed as a cast member playing "Homesteader's wife" in the Fox trade paper advertising billing sheet and in all of the reviews, she does not appear in the print viewed and her role is not in the dialogue continuity taken from the screen in the copyright descriptions for the film; it is possible that her scenes were cut before the final release. The New York Times reviewer noted that the film "has some of the most beautiful glimpses that have ever been seen on the screen. The photography is so good that it seems almost stereoscopic." Benjamin B. Hampton Productions made a film based on the same source, entitled The Killer, which was released by Pathé in 1921; it was directed by Howard Hickman and starred Jack Conway and Claire Adams (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.2869).