Bigger than life movie hero of the times, Charlton Heston, takes on the bigger than life frontier hero of history, Buffalo Bill Cody, in this color feature from Paramount that surrounds Chuck with two beautiful leading ladies and a partner in Forrest Tucker as that other Bill of the west, Wild Bill Hickok.
Riding into frame as the film opens is Heston minus the famed Bill Cody mustache. A quick shot of grazing Buffalo before Heston is on the run from the Indian Braves of Chief Yellow Hand, his sworn enemy. Heston loses his mount but escapes the Indians which puts him squarely inside a stagecoach making it’s way across the plains and in the company of the beautiful Rhonda Fleming (who always looked stunning when photographed in technicolor) and her less than honorable brother, Michael Moore. This chance encounter sets the plot in motion.
The pair are on a mission to get California to break from the Union. Heston himself will be enlisted to run the Pony Express along with pal Tucker which goes against the plans of Fleming’s brother and the men who back him including Henry Brandon whom Heston will eventually tangle with. Before the coach reaches it’s destination, Heston will seemingly save Fleming and her brother from harm and when he plants that powerful Heston kiss upon Miss Fleming, she’s undecided as to just where her loyalties are aimed.
This leads to one of the film’s funniest moments when the stage pulls into town and Miss Jan Sterling as a gun toting tomboy is awaiting Heston. She swoons at his every turn and when Heston jokingly introduces Rhonda as his newly minted bride, Sterling nails her right in the kisser with a pound of mud that would have made any Three Stooges fan stand up and cheer. From here on out the two will spar for the attentions of the buckskin clad Chuck Heston until the final shootout at the film’s exciting climax.
Heston and Tucker set out to get the pony express up and running with horses and riders to join the Union’s states via a mail run while Brandon and Moore will attempt to stop the pair from succeeding. With the red haired Rhonda falling for he-man Heston, her life will be in peril once it’s decided she’s a traitor to the cause of her brother and company. She’s of the opinion that, “No good can come from men who murder to get what they want.” Well spoken! All of this will lead to violence and bloodshed and along the way, Heston will play hero when he goes toe to toe with Chief Yellow Hand in a battle to the death. Tucker playing second tier hero will ably back up any play that Heston makes.
Heston will not only have to defeat his enemies but when the time comes for picking a mate, he…… I’m not saying anymore about that but I will point out if you buy the DVD or blu ray release of Pony Express from Olive Films, don’t look at the back cover which hints at the outcome or may even play outright spoiler for some.
From Paramount, Pony Express was the first of three films Heston would make with director Jerry Hopper. The Indiana Jones of it’s day, Secret of the Incas for Paramount and the comically entertaining, The Private War of Major Benson over at Universal. One really can’t go wrong with any of these films the pair teamed up on and the fact that they are all in different genres offers fans of different tastes something to enjoy from “Chuckles” Heston. I borrowed that one from Richard Harris who resorted to the less than flattering “Chuckles” moniker when the two filmed major Dundee in 1965.
Both Jan Sterling and Rhonda Fleming inject some fun and humor into the film that features a surprisingly game Heston. I think Chuck is too often thought of as a straight laced, very rigid character. He does quite well here as Cody and adds a touch of humor when required. Both Jan and Rhonda continued to star opposite some of the era’s biggest stars for the balance of the decade in various genres. As for Mr. Tucker, he’s fine as Hickok but is strictly playing it second fiddle to Heston’s Buffalo Bill. Even character player Porter Hall turns up as another noted man of the frontier, Jim Bridger. Long time western writer Charles Marquis Warren is the credited scriptwriter. Warren would also pen the Heston’s Arrowhead released in the same year as this take on the Pony Express.
A nice entry for the western fan should you be able to locate a copy for a first time viewing or like me, the first time in what seems like ages.