Pony Soldier (1952)
“Seventy five cents a day to carry the law where there is none.”
Under the 2oth Century Fox banner, this technicolor feature casts one of the studios leading money makers, Tyrone Power, as a member of the Northwest Mounted Police. Tyrone Power + the red Mountie uniform + technicolor = a feast for the eyes of ladies everywhere whose hearts skipped a beat when Ty majestically rode across movie screens.
Directed by company man, Joseph M. Newman, Pony Soldier isn’t the rip roaring western one might expect but really a minor story in the molding of the Northwest Territory and the treatment of the Cree Indians. Utilizing narration via Tyrone, the story takes place in 1876 where the Cree tribe has drifted back into the United States to hunt buffalo and live on the lands they prefer. After a deadly battle against the U.S. Cavalry, the tribe sends out the hot headed warrior, Cameron Mitchell to take some white hostages to give them bargaining power as they once again settle the lands they have been barred from. By chance, peaceful native Thomas Gomez witness the hostage taking. He sees it as an opportunity to travel north of the border to barter the information with the red coats for a new gun and supplies for his family. In order to complete the deal, he’s assigned as a scout to the green Mountie from Toronto, Tyrone Power.
Rather than be a tale of adventure and daring rescue, the film turns towards the peaceful dedication that Tyrone displays when he and Gomez are taken captive at first into the Cree camp. It is here that Ty will begin to bargain with the Chief portrayed by Stuart Randall. Serving as his antagonist is the fighting spirit of warrior Mitchell who like many clichéd characters wants his people to face down the white man in battle, no matter the cost. Randall serves as a wise leader who begins to trust in the Pony Soldier.
Mixed into the proceedings is a subplot involving the two white captives that Tyrone intends to free. Penny Edwards is the woman while Robert Horton is the man who has a past that he’s trying to keep from lawman Ty. He’s also a loose cannon and just itching to grab a rifle and shoot his way out of what may become a peaceful treaty thanks to Ty’s efforts. Injecting a warmth into the film is a young orphan boy in the village who adopts Ty as his new father. Rather than using the boy as an opportunity for peaceful negotiations, Ty welcomes the boy giving him a new name.
There will be few surprises during the final reel when Ty must face off with Mitchell and the outlaw Horton will get his just due. One would think with the backing of Fox studios and Tyrone Power front and center, Pony Soldier would be more memorable than it actually is. This despite the glorious technicolor footage. Essentially it’s a small scale production without even casting a leading lady for Power which is somewhat surprising during the studio era. Just the previous year Ty had starred opposite Susan Hayward in the nail biting western, Rawhide in black and white. Pony Soldier does take an intelligent look at the peaceful solution to the white man clashing with the Indians allowing for Randall as the chief to be more of a fully fleshed character than many other oaters of the genre have portrayed his kind.
Though a minor entry in the career of Tyrone Power, it does give him a role that isn’t the matinee idol type which as we know he was constantly striving to get away from while under the pressures of the studio system to remain just that. Cameron Mitchell’s career was starting to pick up some steam around this time and he makes for quite the imposing Indian Brave hell bent on war and killing Ty before the tribe moves north to Canada. A considerably long haul as this was filmed in Arizona which puts Ty a long way out of his jurisdiction!
It’s Thomas Gomez who gets the most colorful role befitting a character player of his quality. He’s constantly haggling for more goods at every turn when Ty needs either some help or more information of which Gomez seems to be a fountain of knowledge despite claiming ignorance in most cases. He had previously appeared opposite Ty in 1947’s The Captain From Castile. He’s another of those “faces” that many will recognize but invariably won’t be able to put a name on.
Pony Soldier was put out on VHS tape years ago and thanks to Twilight Time it’s out on blu ray. At a limit of 3000 copies it might be hard to come by should you be on the look out for all things Tyrone Power.