Sunday, October 05, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Pony Soldier (1952)

This post on PONY SOLDIER (1952) is my contribution to the O Canada Blogathon being hosted from October 4th through 9th by Silver Screenings and Speakeasy. There have already been many wonderful contributions about Canadian filmmakers and films set in Canada. Please check the Day 1 Roundup for links to explore and continue to check in as the blogathon continues!

PONY SOLDIER is a great exemplar of what is sometimes called a "Northerner" -- in other words, a Canadian Western! It's a satisfying film with Tyrone Power starring as a brave red-coated Mountie who single-handedly brokers peace with the Cree Indians.

Power plays Constable Duncan MacDonald, a relative newcomer to the Mounties whose superior (Howard Petrie) sends him to investigate the kidnapping of a white woman (Penny Edwards) and man (Robert Horton) by the Cree, who have left their reservation and also tangled with some U.S. soldiers. The footage of the battle with the Army was lifted from the 1944 film BUFFALO BILL, according to the Blu-ray liner notes by Julie Kirgo.

As Kirgo writes, the film centers on diplomacy, with MacDonald and his Blackfoot guide (Thomas Gomez, offering solid comic relief) risking their lives by venturing into the midst of the Cree. MacDonald illustrates the old adage about the definition of bravery: being scared but saddling up anyway. He demonstrates nerve and quick thinking as he negotiates with Chief Standing Bear (Stuart Randall) to hold a council meeting to discuss the Cree freeing the prisoners and moving back to their reservation.

MacDonald's courage, as well as his calm and evenhanded approach, wins him the respect of Standing Bear and many in the tribe. Without a second thought MacDonald even agrees to adopt an orphaned Cree boy, Comes Running (Anthony Numkena), as he sincerely likes the boy, and perhaps their bond will also help improve relations with the tribe.

Standing in the way of peace is another Cree chief, Konah (Cameron Mitchell), who hates all white men and wants to give the imprisoned woman to his brother as his wife.

Power's screen presence and a solid story keep this 82-minute movie interesting despite its fairly limited scope. Gomez offers lively support, and his presence is missed in the movie's final section. Mitchell is quite believable as the embittered chief. Adeline de Walt Reynolds, who began her film career a decade earlier, when she was nearly 80, does a fine job in a small role as a respected elder of the tribe.

Penny Edwards, the heroine of many a "B" Western, such as Roy Rogers' TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (1950), is not much more than a placeholder here, the object of negotiations but not really a developed character. Likewise, Robert Horton, playing a jailbreaker who went from the frying pan into the fire as a prisoner of the Cree, serves to move the story forward at a key moment, but that's about it.

Production values are solid, including Technicolor photography by Harry Jackson and a stirring score by Alex North; the opening credits theme music is particularly fine. The PONY SOLDIER screenplay by John C. Higgins was from a story by Garnett Weston.

A decade earlier director Joseph M. Newman had directed another "Mountie" film, a "B" picture titled NORTHWEST RANGERS (1942) with William Lundigan as the Mountie. Newman's other Westerns included Joel McCrea in THE GUNFIGHT AT DODGE CITY (1959).

Unfortunately, despite the subject matter, PONY SOLDIER was not actually filmed in Canada! It was shot in California's Red Rock Canyon and in Sedona, Arizona.

Despite the lack of Canadian locations, the movie is a stirring tribute to the honor and bravery of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. When the film was shown in UK, it was titled MACDONALD OF THE CANADIAN MOUNTIES.

PONY SOLDIER is not on standard DVD. It is available on a limited edition Blu-ray from Twilight Time. The film can be played with an isolated music track.

PONY SOLDIER is also available on VHS.


Blogger Kristina said...

Nice choice and review, Tyrone makes a fine Mountie :) and this must look great on blu. Fun Canadian connection: Tyrone was related (cousin I think, without checking) to the founder of the Stratford Shakespeare festival, which is not far from me and a very big event. Thanks for being a part of *this* great event. best!

6:06 PM  
Blogger Silver Screenings said...

I think I like the British title "MacDonald of the Canadian Mounties". Sounds very distinguished.

Even though this movie was not filmed in Canada, I think I'd love it anyway. What's not to love about a brave Mountie – especially when it's Tyrone Power!

Thanks for participating in the O Canada blogathon. It can't be a good time without a rollicking Mountie flick!

6:09 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you both for hosting a wonderful blogathon!

Kristina, the Twilight Time Blu-ray does look terrific. That is wonderful trivia!

Ruth, I must say I agree, I like the title MACDONALD OF THE CANADIAN MOUNTIES a lot. It gives a little more of an idea what the movie's about than PONY SOLDIER, which is what the Indians call MacDonald in the film.

Best wishes,

7:06 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Yay! Another Mountie movie! I thought I was going to be the only one; I wasn't sure if there are other Mountie picture fans in the blog-o-verse, but there are a few, it seems!

I like this one quite a bit; if not for a little too much of a comic element, I'd really dig it a lot more! :)

Thanks for the fun write-up; it's a fun blogathon pick!

Clayton @ Phantom Empires

7:13 PM  
Blogger Colin said...

Good choice & write up, Laura. The film really looks wonderful - I have it on DVD but I imagine the BD gives the visuals even more punch.
Newman was a good director with some strong movies among his credits.


12:27 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much, Colin!

Your comment on having the DVD prompts me to mention that while the movie isn't on Region 1 DVD in the U.S., it's out in Europe on a Region 2 DVD.

The Twilight Time Blu-ray does indeed look great!

Best wishes<

12:44 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for stopping by, Clay!

I'm hoping to circle around and comment on some of the blogathon posts over the next couple of days -- I really enjoyed your post on another favorite Mountie film, MRS. MIKE, which is also a much-loved novel on my bookshelf.

Best wishes,

12:45 AM  
Blogger History on Film said...

While I enjoyed your review, I have to admit that Pony Soldier is not my favorite Tyrone Power film. I know, Mounties, Canada, gorgeous scenery, what's not to like? It just seemed slow, mainly because the two captives seemed to be there just to move the plot along, as you point out. However, I do like the emphasis on negotiation to resolve the problem. I think it is just that I expect more action in a Tyrone Power film, so it is probably my expectations rather than the film itself.

11:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This blogathon has revealed the ENORMOUS gap in my Mountie film knowledge. They've never seemed that popular in the UK, although I'm not sure why as I discovered some real gems. Anything with Power in usually gets my vote anyway :)

2:01 AM  
Blogger  said...

I really enjoy films with the Mounted Police - and if they are in color, much better! But adding Tyrone Power - wow! How have I missed Mr. Handsome in a red uniform? This film is now in my watchlist ;)
Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

1:23 PM  

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