Monday, August 4, 2014

Pony Soldier (1952)

Pony SoldierPony Soldier rates a notch or two at least above your average western for a number of reasons. One, both the heroes and the Indians are from Canada, which for some reason wasn't done a lot, except for Alan Ladd's Saskatchewan (also a very good Canadian western). Tyrone Power plays a newly minted Canadian Mountie who is charged with rescuing two white hostages who have been captured by Canadian Cree Indians who have moved over the American border looking for food to hunt. The Indians have a reasonable head chief, but an unreasonable younger leader, played by Cameron Mitchell, who resists the head chief's wishes to follow Powers back to Canada, and relinquish the hostages.

Another discriminator making this better than average are subtle, but notable. The head Indian chief gets to be a hero in the final showdown, which is very rare for any Western. The other bad guy besides Mitchell's Indian happens to be the male hostage, played by Robert Horton, famous for starring in the Wagon Train television series. He is obviously not redeemable, and won't be a voice of wisdom to Power's rookie Mountie.

The final reason is that the way that the plot unfold is a little different than you might expect. All in all, Pony Soldier is an enjoyable and entertaining film.

Mountie (Tyrone Power)goes to indian villege to save captured white girl and retrieve bank robber(Robert Horton). Power is aided in his quest by half-breed(Thomas Gomez)and must challenge a proud indian warrior(Cameron Mitchell.

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One of those well crafted star vehicles from the twilight of the studio system era, not that much actually happens in Pony Soldier yet it still manages to be a pleasant and entertaining North Western. By 1952 Tyrone Power was getting on a bit to play a rookie Mountie who's still wet enough behind the ears to have let his man get away before the film starts, though he's more convincing once the story hits his stride and his ability to improvise solutions comes to the fore. It may begin with a spectacular battle (culled from Fox's 1944 Buffalo Bill) and a murderous raid for hostages but it's not an action picture, and nor is it a romance despite one of those hostages naturally being a pretty girl (an underused Penny Edwards). Instead, as Julie Kirgo's booklet notes in Twilight Time's new Blu-ray release observe, it's more a film about diplomacy and keeping the peace, with Power's tenderfoot having to persuade a tribe of Cree to return to their reservation and hand over two American hostages with only Thomas Gomez's portly and reluctant half-breed scout ("The Cree do not love the Blackfeet. Because I am half Blackfeet, half white man, they hate me double") and an orphaned Indian boy to help him. Naturally there's conflict in the Cree ranks to contend with as well, with Stuart Randall's chief leaning towards conciliation and an almost unrecognisable Cameron Mitchell eager for war. And it doesn't help that one of the hostages has a secret of his own, leaving Power with a bear by the tail and a bear's tail is short...

There aren't many surprises and the film never makes a play for greatness, but it's a satisfying outdoor picture all the same. Gomez gets all the best lines ("Sometimes even when smart beaver cut down tree, tree fall on beaver"), the scenery is spectacular even if it was shot in Arizona and California rather than Canada and there's enough action and incident to satisfy most Western fans while its concise 82 minute running time ensures it never outstays its welcome.

Sadly the handsome Three-Strip Technicolor photography has lost some of its original lustre. As the name implies, the film was shot on three separate films that were printed together to form spectacularly vivid colour prints. Unfortunately over the years the three separate negative strips either suffered damage (not always in the same place on all three) or proved increasingly expensive to print, so in the 50s and 60s the studio made single combined negatives that were easier to handle and needed less storage space. As dupe negatives there was a slight loss of definition (not a major issue at the time with TV increasingly becoming the only market for old films) and the constant risk of the colour being slightly out of register if one of the three strips shrank slightly (the cause of the green lines sometimes visible around objects in 40s and 50s Technicolor films). Pony Soldier certainly doesn't suffer nearly as badly as some other films from the same era, and this is certainly the best it's ever likely to look again, but there are some problems with the surviving negative that not even the best transfer can overcome.

Nonetheless, Twilight Time have done a pretty good job with what they had to work with, with a lot more detail apparent than in Fox's Spanish DVD release enough, indeed, to show up the limitations in one of the special effect shots of a conveniently well-timed mirage. Better still, Alex North's beautiful score gets an isolated track of its own, complete with recording session lead-ins from conductor Alfred Newman, and it's one of his best from the 50s. While the occasional motifs that would later be further developed in Spartacus have drawn the most attention, it's the more lyrical passages particularly the seductive American Pastorale with its insidiously developing undercurrent of menace that really stand out.

Read Best Reviews of Pony Soldier (1952) Here

The absence of a strong story line in the screenplay alleviates the overall effect of "Pony Soldier," but as filmed against a breathtaking Technicolor panorama, Joseph M Newman's film guarantees attention for its qualities of vivid action and the interesting authenticity with which life in last century times is depicted among the Cree Indians and the Mounted Police...

These sequences abound in effective atmosphere and are increased substantially by Newman's splendid choice of players (Cameron Mitchell, Thomas Gomez and Penny Edwards) to surround head man Tyrone Power (in a colorful uniform) assigned to stop a tribe of hostile Crees from going on wage war against the U. S. Cavalry...

The film free from weeds stands out as a little gem of Technicolor beauty... It contains: a spectacular attack on a wagon train; hostages held as a pledge; enraged Indians riding into the hills to burn at the stake a beautiful innocent girl; and a battle during which a handsome hero is saved by the arrow of an Indian lad...

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This movie was soooo hard to find. I was so happy to get it from your website, even if it was VHS! It was a GREAT movie and another my uncle of 90yrs. hadn't seen! Thank you so much!! It was in great condition as promised. You are the best!!

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