Power Pony Player
One of Twentieth Century-Fox’s 1952 Christmas season gifts to moviegoers – a diverse assortment that included the musical biopic Stars and Stripes Forever, the sultry melodrama Ruby Gentry and the gothic mystery romance My Cousin Rachel – was not an especially valued present to the studio’s long-time but increasingly marginalized star, Tyrone Power. Premiering in New York 64 years ago today, Pony Soldier (1952) was considered a busywork endeavor for the headliner of previous Fox hits The Mark of Zorro, The Black Swan, The Razor’s Edge and Captain from Castile; he’d bristled under his studio contract for some time, so he made plans to take time out for more personally edifying stage work once the shooting was through. The Films of Tyrone Power authors Dennis Belafonte and Alvin H. Marill noted: “A ‘B’ movie given ‘A’ trappings and Power alone to carry it at the box office, Pony Soldier further demonstrated the Fox front office’s waning interest in its foremost star, feeling Power’s allegiance had turned to the legitimate stage following his heady success in Mister Roberts and the forthcoming plans he had announced for working with Charles Laughton and Paul Gregory. Fox’s way of punishing its recalcitrant players, during the early ’50s, was to get them where it hurt – in the screen billing. With Power, however, it seemed to have been to embarrass him with a ‘B’ movie under the stewardship of a workhorse director, Joseph M. Newman, who never had been given a prestige picture on which to work.” Its title promised Western thrills, but the handsomely shot (by Harry Jackson and Leon Shamroy) Technicolor production was more precisely a “Northern,” for the hero of this historical adventure set in an 1876 frontier milieu was named Macdonald of the Canadian Mounties, (which served as the film’s title in international territories) and decorated World War II veteran Power always wore a uniform well and with commanding conviction. Power’s Macdonald is charged with pursuing a tribe of Cree Indians who have left their reservation, encroaching into Montana territory to illegally raid buffalo herds, and must contend with warring tribal factions and hotheaded rebels with empathetic diplomatic skills and – when called for – strategic battle action. Though Power was the marquee name, fellow players Cameron Mitchell, Thomas Gomez, Penny Edwards, Robert Horton and many Native American extras (including young Anthony Earl Numkena as a boy who befriends the Mountie) provide A-level support, and the flavorful musical score was penned by the busy and versatile Alex North, who’d already gifted 1952 moviegoers with Viva Zapata! and Les Miserables and whose grace notes would enhance another film opening the following week, The Member of the Wedding (available on Twilight Time Blu-ray). When Pony Soldier debuted to good box office and reviews that singled out the sturdy performance of its still highly regarded star and the film’s more thoughtful approach to its depictions of Native North Americans, Power was happily off touring in the Laughton-directed production of Stephen Vincent Benét’s John Brown’s Body en route to a Broadway engagement. Arriving in theaters a month later, Power’s next film The Mississippi Gambler (1953), made for Universal-International, got him a better payday as a profit participant. So Pony Soldier proved a solidly built stepping stone for its entrepreneurial leading man, cast and creative team, and for the Western (or Northwestern) genre itself. Per Cinema Retro’s Doug Oswald: “While this movie isn’t shot in the gritty adult Western style made popular by John Ford, Anthony Mann, George Stevens, John Sturges and Fred Zinnemann in the 1950s, it still manages to be entertaining as a sort of transition between the standard Western formula of old Hollywood and the modern Westerns being made by independent directors.” Scout TT’s hi-def Blu-ray here: http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/23708/PONY-SOLDIER-1952/.