Stars: Tyrone Power, Thomas Gomez, Stuart Randall, Cameron Mitchell
Director: Joseph Newman
Released by Twlight Time
Limited Edition of 3,000 units
Available through screenarchives.com
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been presented on the screen in several incarnations through the years. They are easily recognizable in their bright red jackets. Their unshakable commitment to upholding the law in the remote territories of the Canadian provinces is legendary. The first one most of us would call to mind would be Dudley Do-Right from the Sixties TV classic Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. There was a successful Television series Sergeant Preston of the Yukon that ran in the mid to late fifties. Who could forget the chorus in Monty Python’s Lumberjack sketch? But back in 1952 matinee idol and star of such swashbucklers as The Black Swan (1942) and The Mark of Zorro (1940), Tyrone Power donned the colorful tunic and took on the role of Constable Duncan MacDonald.
Constable Duncan is charged with going after a tribe of Cree Indians who have left their sanctioned territory in search of food. In case anyone comes after them they have kidnapped a man and woman to be used as hostage bargaining chips. Natayo Smith is the peaceful but conniving journeyman man who sees this transgression and reports it to the RCMP. He tries to trade this information for one of those new Enfield rifles and some other supplies. However Constable Duncan finds a bottle of forbidden booze in his bag and the commanding officer at the outpost blackmails him into escorting Duncan into the Indian’s camp. Thomas Gomez plays the reluctant guide for strict comic relief. He’s lots of fun in the old school Alan Hale fashion. With only the two of them to rescue the hostages and talk the tribe into claming down and returning to the reservation he‘s got his work cut out for him. It’s also a pretty talky strategy for a western.
The chief of the tribe Standing Bear played by Stuart Randell who was in many TV western series seems reasonable enough. He’s a strong leader with a mature demeanor who cares for his people. The one to recon with is Konah. He’s a hot head who led the war party that kidnapped the hostages and killed a few innocent settlers in the process. Hidden under many layers of dark make-up and given to lets of yelling and violent posturing Cameron Mitchell (Toolbox Murders) is a scary guy and the main villain of the film. Oddly the picture sees fit to throw in an adorable little Indian orphan who wants to be adopted by Tyrone Power .The Character of Comes Running later christened Duncan Comes Running after his new dad is straight out of a Disney movie. He does however get to fire off a very decisive arrow in the end earning new respect from Chief Standing Bear and Constable Duncan.
Pony Solider seems caught between the tides. On the one hand it’s still very much a part of the western tradition of the thirties and forties where the good guys all wore white hats and the bad guys wore black ones. Heroes were easy to spot and the predictability of the films was met with open arms by a huge adoring audience. The films had rousing action scenes with no blood shed and a lot of ooh-they-got-me grab your chest and fall to the ground deaths. Cowboys had an endless supply of bullets that never missed. Later on in the fifties a new kind of western appeared: the more adult psychological western. Director Anthony Mann made a series of films with James Stewart as did Budd Boetticher with Randolph Scott that virtually redefined the entire genre. They focused on characters that were complicated. Heroes were often tainted with a past they sought to escape. Supposed villains exhibited a code of ethics that was not so black and white. Tyrone Power plays a character whose morality is as clear as Dudley Do-Right’s. There are only two very brief bits of action in the whole film. Power could be a very strong actor as he had shown in the film noir, Nightmare Alley (1947). He draws on those skills as he works his way through the dialogue heavy script, particularly in the second half. It’s an interesting effort that doesn’t wholly satisfy either kind of western.
Video – 1.33:1
Bright red is the order of the day here as the Mounties’ jackets blast off the screen. It’s a pleasure to see the color represented without any fading here. Much has been made of the landscapes in this film, yet they feel kind of flat. In just a few short years director Budd Boetticher would take his crew into the scraggy and rough terrains that would give his films a legitimacy that had never been see before. He brought a rugged beauty to the genre. Pony Solider, again caught between the changing tides of the western film does not sport the kind of breathtaking horizons that John Ford would shoot either. There are several occasions during the film where the stability of the colors waver. It’s a subtle temperature change that’s likely attributable to the source material. On the whole Pony Soldier is very satisfying to watch.
Audio – 1.0 DTS HD English track
Alex North’s score sounds great here. All dialogue is presented strongly. The few times there is any gunfire the sound effects are pleasingly recognizable to fans of the genre.
Extras – Twlight Time presents their signature isolated soundtrack. Alex North would go on to higher profile pictures like Spartacus and Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolf in later years. Fans of soundtracks will be happy to revel in this early score of his.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic
Blu-Ray – Good / Excellent
Movie – Good