Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Lion and the Horse (1952) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Steve Cochran stars in THE LION AND THE HORSE (1952), a contemporary Western just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

Cochran is more often associated with playing villains, but I find him especially compelling in his rare good guy roles, such as in TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY (1951). That's also the case with THE LION AND THE HORSE, in which Cochran plays a wandering cowboy who falls in love with a stallion and also finds himself a ready-made family in a little girl named Jenny (Sherry Jackson) and her grandfather (Harry Antrim).

Ben Kirby (Cochran) is working with Matt Jennings (Bob Steele) and his hands to round up wild horses when he spots the black stallion leading the group and has to have him for his own. When the stallion gets away Ben tracks him relentlessly and finally catches him, but he doesn't initially tell Matt.

When Matt's men discover the horse has been caught, they're understandably unhappy Ben didn't mention it, since their deal is to sell all the horses and divide up the proceeds. Ben offers to give up his share of income to the other men in return for the horse. They agree, if he'll also pay $500.

Ben hustles to earn the needed money but when he returns in a few days, the horse has been sold to Dave Tracy (Ray Teal), who's making money letting rodeo riders attempt to break the stallion. Tracy won't sell, and since the horse is being abused and likely to break a leg at any time, Ben "helps" the horse escape.

Eventually Ben and the stallion end up on a farm with Cas Bagley (Antrim) and his granddaughter (Jackson), where Ben gradually becomes one of the family while working for Mr. Bagley and also taming the horse. But Tracy is on Ben's trail...and about that lion in the title? He's escaped from a circus, and he means trouble.

This is a pleasant if unremarkable family film which is greatly helped by two key factors, Cochran's performance and extensive location shooting at Zion National Park. The majority of the film was shot outdoors, save for some pretty bad soundstage shots in the final third of the movie, and the realistic, beautiful locations add considerably to the film.

Cochran is excellent as Ben, and quite touching in his devotion to the horse and later his new family. There's a scene where he has to say goodbye to Jenny and blinks back tears which was quite moving.

Ben is by no means a perfect angel, initially hiding the horse from his coworkers and later essentially stealing him back when he "liberates" the horse, but we also see he's a good man. When confronted, he immediately agrees to fairly compensate the other cowboys for the horse -- only to have the horse sold behind his back! And his determination not to see such a beautiful animal ruined by Tracy is quite understandable. The horse later exacts his own, most satisfactory form of justice in a confrontation with his former owner.

Jackson is cute as Jenny, and the cast is rounded out with character faces such as George O'Hanlon, Lane Chandler, House Peters Jr., and Tom Tyler.

The main downside to the film for me is that there are extensive scenes depicting tracking, catching, and training a wild horse; despite being a huge fan of Westerns, I'm not especially "into" horses and found these scenes went on a little long. Horses and lions battling aren't really my thing either! (Kudos, though, to the excellent special effects when Ben and Jenny are threatened by the lion stampeding horses.)

That said, overall I found the film a pleasant 83 minutes, and I suspect many of my fellow Westerns fans will enjoy spending time with it as well.

The movie was written by Crane Wilbur and directed by Louis King. The film was scored by Max Steiner.

THE LION AND THE HORSE was filmed by Edwin DuPar in Warnercolor, a format which tends to not hold up well; like another Warnercolor Archive release I've reviewed, THE BIG LAND (1957), the print's color is highly variable. Some scenes are quite faded, almost looking like the pastels of Trucolor, while other scenes are bright and good-looking.

In addition to the problems inherent with Warnercolor, the print is quite a bit rougher in spots than is typical for the Archive, with periodic scratches and speckles. The DVD is still entirely watchable and enjoyable, with no skips and good sound, and if it's a choice between this print or no release at all, I'm glad they put it out. Many Western fans will doubtless be happy to have this disc, they should simply be aware of the print's condition in advance.

There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

3 Comments:

Blogger Jerry Entract said...

You know what I like and would probably guess this would fall into that category, Laura, and you would be right! A pleasant rather than outstanding film but I found it a rewarding watch, enjoying as I do films involving horses when well-filmed.
Cochran was really good here and immensely likeable. And I really enjoyed the cast of familiar faces (Chandler, Tyler etc) and especially Ray Teal and Bob Steele.
Glad you got to see it and write on it so nicely.

11:24 PM  
Blogger Jinzo 2400 said...

Another very fair and thought out review,Laura. I am a little curious to check this out now.
Revisiting these old Westerns and sharing a POV is becoming important due to the fact a lot of younger viewers don't watch them these days.

3:00 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you both for your comments!

Jerry, yep, I guessed it was the kind of movie you'd like to spend time with! :) As good as Cochran is playing sleazy types, he's so likeable when he's "good," I wish he'd done more of this type of role.

Jinzo, I'd enjoy hearing your opinion when you see it. I hope in writing about Westerns regularly I'm helping do my part to keep them "alive"!

Best wishes,
Laura

5:04 PM  

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