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March 29, 2013

Movie Review: Pony Soldier (1952, Blu-ray)

Review By: Rob Sibley

Pony Soldier is a surprisingly entertaining little watch considering very little actually happens in the film. This 1952 Canadian Western starring Tyrone Power is beautifully photographed and moves along at a quick pace. What makes this film so interesting and refreshing is that it' one of the few Westerns of it's time to show Native Americans in a more positive & sympathetic light. This time around they were more three dimensional characters, not just peace pipe smoking killing machines as they were often portrayed.

The film is set in 1876 and deals with a Canadian Mounted Police constable Duncan MacDonald (Tyrone Power). Who has recently just be posted to Fort Walsh, Duncan is tasked with negotiating the release of two hostages. 

These two hostages are being held by the Cree Indians. The reason for the kidnapping of these two was an interesting one. Due to the horrendous winter of 1876 the Cree's were forced to head South to the states to hunt and gather food. The fact that they were leaving their stretch of land didn't sit to well with others. So they were chased back (After a bit of a battle) by some American cavalrymen. So in response the Cree's shot up a stage coach with some flaming arrows and took the two people occupying it hostage.

These two people are a no good fugitive Jess Calhoun (Robert Horton) & Emerald Neeley (The lovely Penny Edwards). Duncan is soon joined up with a comic side kick of sorts Natayo Smith (Thomas Gomwz) who knows the way of the land. Once they reach the Cree camp, soon begins a long negotiation process with the tribal leader Standing Bear (Stuart Randall). Also Duncan has to deal with a rather blood thirsty dog soldier played with devilish glee by Cameron Mitchell (Yes the same C-Mitchell from Bava's Blood and Black Lace). Also along the way Duncan even comes upon and adopts a Cree Indian boy (Anthony Numkena)

Light on action and heavy on issues of talky diplomacy this flick isn't for everyone. I'd say it's very much a love it or hate it type of film. It certainly kept me entertained for it's 82 minute running time but this wasn't do to the action or adventure. There is very little action or adventure in this fine film. As about 90 percent of the film takes place at the Cree's camp.

But the stellar performances from all involved and the absolutely stunning cinematography from Alex North kept my interest. Sure the film is melodramatic at times and the whole adopting a kid sub-plot is a tad hokey. But this was one of those harmless Westerns you'd watch with your Dad on a Saturday afternoon. For that reason is brought back very fond memories. It's really got little to no violence and is very family friendly as well.

The performances all around the board are solid. Tyrone Power was a fantastic actor who you've probably seen in plenty of those great old swashbuckler flicks. It takes a little time getting used to him in the role of a Canadian Mountie but it works. Thomas Gomez as Power's side kick really brings a great sense of humor to the film. Sure he's not convincing as an Indian at all but the humor makes up for that. Stuart Randall as the leader of the Cree job does a very credible job. Never once does his character fall into the usual traps of stereotypes that Native American characters in most westerns did.
Penny Edwards is a nice touch to the cast, she doesn't have many lines but she's gorgeous to look at. Of special note as well is the score by Alex North. Truly a memorable one at that.

One thing you'll notice right off the bat though is even though it's set in Canada it certainly wasn't filmed there. It happened to be filmed in Sedona, Arizona of all places. The production even faced a bit of film karma pay back since the production was disrupted by what? Of all things a snow storm... the production was even halted a bit when the entire cast/crew saw a flash in the sky. Caused by nuclear weapon being tested 3000 miles away in Nevada.

Pony Soldier is released onto Blu-ray courtesy of the fine folks at Twilight Time.

The 1080P 1.33:1 transfer is very nice, it's not perfect by a long stretch. In some scenes the colors will really pop and the black levels stay fairly solid throughout. But parts of the film are bathed in a very milky look and many of the scenes of soft. But for a film made in 1952, I'm guessing this is the best it looked since it played theaters back in the day. The transfer might disappoint Twilight Time fans but I'm guessing they did the most with the elements they were able to acquire.

The DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio is rather good. It's a clean, pleasing to the ears audio track. No background noise is apparent, the dialog and especially the music sound crisp enough.

For extras were are treated an isolated score of Alex North's muzak for the film. Even though this is the sole extra it's very nice inclusion because it's truly a memorable score. You also get a six page booklet consisting of linear notes written by film historian Julie Kirgo.

All and all I really enjoyed this film and if your a die hard Tyrone Power fan or dig vintage westerns... give this badboy a look. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

If your interested in purchasing a copy head on over to only 3,000 copies were made.

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