| Run Time: 82 min. | colour
Director: Joseph M. Newman
Stars: Tyrone Power, Cameron Mitchell, Robert Horton, Penny Singleton
Hollywood tackles Canada again, in this well done actioner about the Mounties and attempts to stave off an Indian war. Power is a sturdy redcoat. All most effective in Technicolor.
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20th. Century Fox's 1952 production PONY SOLDIER (aka. "MacDonald Of the Canadian Mounties") is a somewhat disappointing and quite action-less adventure and even more so when one considers that it is one of the few westerns the estimable Tyrone Power appeared in. Produced for the studio by Samuel G.Engel it did however have a few saving graces and not least the stunning colour cinematography of Coconimon National Forest by Harry Jackson and a driving ethnic score by composer Alex North. Thinly written for the screen by John C.Higgins it was however ably directed by Joseph M.Newman.
It is 1876 and constable Duncun MacDonald (Tyrone Power) of the Royal Canadian Mounted police is given an assignment to investigate the reason why the Cree Indians are massing along the Canadian/US border and attacking wagons crossing into Canada. With a half-caste guide (Thomas Gomez) he makes the long trek to the Indian camp to speak to the chief (Sturt Randall) and discovers the tribe have taken two white captives – a woman (Penny Edwards) and an unscrupulous ex-convict (Robert Horton). Now, besides trying to persuade the Crees to return to the reservation he must also endeavour to negotiate the release of the two hostages. However, the hatred of one of the chiefs (Cameron Mitchell) for all whites makes it impossible for the young constable to achieve anything culminating in a hand to hand fight to the death in the final reel.
Although it's a beautiful looking movie (Ty Power's red tunic is luminous) and the scenes in the Indian camp are quite colourful the picture can often be dull and boring. Particularly tedious and tiresome is the relationship that develops between Power and an Indian boy who befriends him. There is much too much screen time wasted here and is simply just padding to fill in the running time. There is very little action throughout the movie which really only occurs in the film's first fifteen minutes and comes from stock footage culled from the studio's earlier "Buffalo Bill" (1944). Anthony Quinn who played chief Yellow Hand in that picture remember – can clearly be identified here as he runs and leaps onto his pinto pony to lead his warriors from the camp to engage with the US cavalry in William Wellman's classic battle scene from that earlier movie.
On the plus side are reasonably good performances. Power is his usual polished self and Cameron Mitchell is very authentic and striking looking as the militant and vengeful warrior. The female lead is taken by pretty Penny Edwards as one of the captives but has little to do and isn't in it very much. The "B" picture actress has hardly more than a dozen words of dialogue to say in what must be her only A list movie and playing opposite one of Hollywood's biggest stars. Also of note is the sparkling score by Alex North. There's a savage atmospheric Indian theme heard in its broadest rendition under the titles with baying horns against wild woodwind figures. It perfectly conjures up the will and determination of the Canadian Cree nation. And discerned here in the great composer's music are little hints of the masterwork he would conceive ten years later for one of the finest scores ever written for the screen – "Spartacus".
PONY SOLDIER is no earth shattering viewing experience at all but with its few saving graces and the presence of its appealing star it is just about worth a look.
I'm not sure, but has there ever been a film made with a less than sympathetic treatment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police? The Mounties have done very well cinema wise and Pony Soldier is not setting any new patterns.
It doesn't have to because it's a very entertaining film. The plot has a lot of similarities to Broken Arrow which 20th Century Fox also produced. Tyrone Power is playing Constable Duncan MacDonald, newly arrived at Fort Walsh and sent out on a mission to negotiate a peace with Cree Indians who've left their reserve and tangled with U.S. Cavalry south of the border. On the way back they've taken two white prisoners in a raid and Power is looking to get them back. One is Penny Edwards who catches the eye of Cameron Mitchell and he decides she'd make a good squaw for his little brother. The other is Robert Horton who's an escaped outlaw.
So intrepid Mountie Power along with his Indian guide Thomas Gomez go to the camp of the Crees. Gomez is a most reluctant guide, in fact he's kind of blackmailed into making the journey. Thomas Gomez is an underrated and capable actor who deadpans some very funny lines.
Two others in the cast really make this work. Little Anthony Numkena plays the Cree Indian boy who Power adopts and that turns out to be a great negotiating technique. But their affection is genuine and the scenes between Power and Numkena are some of the best in the film.
Stuart Randall plays the Cree Chief Standing Bear. His portrayal is very similar to Jeff Chandler's more heralded portrayal of Cochise in Broken Arrow. In fact the Indians are not stereotyped, they are three dimensional characters here. Randall does a fine job as Standing Bear, negotiating with Power and having to contend with militants in his own camp led by Cameron Mitchell. Since Jeff Chandler had already broken the same ground with Cochise, Randall's performance has been overlooked, unfortunately so for him.
Tyrone Power is a whole cloth hero here and does a fine job. One of the things that Americans don't appreciate is that the Mounties were there in large measure to protect the native Indians from white depredation. Canadians have always loved contrasting that to how the U.S. Cavalry treated the native population. Our cavalry was there on the settler's behalf. The contrast is certainly a matter of historical record, but I wonder if Canada had seen the immigration westward that America did, would their Mounties have been more like our blue coats.
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…
Improbably enough, Tyrone Power plays one of the first Canadian Mounties in this film. While I just couldn't picture him in this role, he was fine in the role as an interpreter sent to discuss peace with a renegade Indian tribe. The first half of the film was amazingly leisurely paced and lacked the usual level of excitement found in a Western, though the second half improved quite a bit. What I particularly liked was how the Indians were generally portrayed. Unlike earlier Westerns of the 30s and 40s, this one was much more sympathetic in its portrayal of the natives–showing them as intelligent and generally quite honorable. Also, to get past the usual dialog and accent problems, early in the film the narrator announced that Power and the Indians spoke the native language but it was translated to English for the benefit of the audience (an unusual announcement to say the least).
Aside from a nice portrayal of most of the Indian, the story also featured a cute Indian lad who actually helped the story–something cute child actors rarely do! On the negative side, the overall effort, to me, seemed rather listless in places and just didn't seem like much more than a very good time-passer. Interestingly enough, I watched this movie with my wife and she really liked it–more than I did, and this is unusual since she usually HATES Westerns.