Blu-ray Review Pony Soldier Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Feb 16, 2013.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    XenForo Template A fairly lackluster look at the early years of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Joseph M. Newman’s Pony Soldier might offer an okay alternative to all those road company productions of Rose Marie which also featured a Mountie in the leading role, but as an action picture it’s far more talk than action, and despite lush location shooting (in Arizona, not Canada, however) and some interesting performances, Pony Soldier won’t land atop any of its participants’ filmographies.

    Pony Soldier (Blu-ray) Directed by Joseph M. Newman Studio: Twilight Time (Fox) Year: 1952 Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 1080p AVC codec Running Time: 82 minutes Rating: NR Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 English Subtitles: none

    Region: 0 MSRP: $ 29.95

    Release Date: February 12, 2013

    Review Date: February 16, 2013

    The Film

    3/5 After starving on their Canadian reservation during the bitter winter of 1876, a tribe of Cree Indians goes south into the United States to hunt buffalo only to be faced with a troop of U.S. cavalrymen who chase them back into Canada. In retaliation, the Cree hunting party led by the hostile Konah (Cameron Mitchell) take two Americans from a wagon train as prisoners, escaped convict Jess Calhoun (Robert Horton) and his sister (Penny Edwards). When the RCMP hears of the capture, Mountie Duncan MacDonald (Tyrone Power) is sent to bring back the captives and send the Cree back to their reservation. The Cree chief (Stuart Randall) is at first reluctant to comply but due to some inside information provided to MacDonald by his half-breed guide Natayo (Thomas Gomez), MacDonald appears to have powerful medicine that makes the Indians rethink their position. Only Konah and his followers resist smoking a peace pipe with the Mountie and settling their differences. The John C. Higgins script ends up being far more talky than action-filled (the early Indian attack on the wagon train was lifted from the earlier Fox film Buffalo Bill to give the movie the look of a more substantial production), but that wouldn’t matter if the talk and bits of business where MacDonald sells the Indians on the powerful medicine of the Great White Queen (Queen Victoria) were a bit more entertaining and significant. Higgins works in a subplot about an orphaned Cree brave Comes Running (Anthony Earl Numkena) who manages to endear himself to the Mountie who adopts him as his son that provides pleasant if undynamic scenes of father-son bonding, but thankfully no phony romance is cooked up between MacDonald and the captive American girl. There are a couple of fight scenes sprinkled through the movie and one grisly (for 1952) murder with a hatchet. Director Joseph Newman stages a good climactic chase in the mountains where MacDonald attempts to track the embittered Konah and his band, but there isn’t much style to any of the direction; it’s all rather matter-of-fact. Tyrone Power was getting perhaps a bit long in the tooth to be playing a rookie officer, but he’s reliably stalwart throughout, and the scenes in the film with the young boy are the movie’s most enjoyable. Thomas Gomez is here to provide comic relief, and he does kvetch and bargain his way through the movie fairly amusingly. Robert Horton and Cameron Mitchell get to duel for bragging rights as the film’s most nefarious villain. Mitchell wins the prize due to more footage and a particularly nasty disposition though he doesn’t make the most convincing Indian. Horton has fewer opportunities to show his wickedness but does possess an undeniable screen presence. Anthony Earl Numkena has a very important role in the movie as the adopted brave, but his acting skills are rather minimal.

    Video Quality

    3/5 The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is offered at 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. The image is problematic throughout with occasional gorgeous shots with good sharpness, rich color, and accurate contrast alternating with shots where sharpness is variable (some long shots are quite soft), color is too hot or plugged up (with some blooming reds in those Mountie tunics), flesh tones over saturated and gauche, and milky contrast which robs the blacks of depth and makes shadow detail practically nonexistent. The review copy I used seemed to have authoring problems in chapter twelve with an image that pixilated and broke apart frequently, the first Twilight Time release to have this problem, but after cleaning the disc with a mircofiber cloth, the disc played without error. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.

    Audio Quality

    4/5 The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 sound mix is very typical of its era and offers solid fidelity for the dialogue, Alex North’s music, and the sound effects, none of which ever overpower the others. I thought at one point there was just a bit of crackle to be heard, but otherwise, it’s a clean, clear artifact-free soundtrack.

    Special Features

    2/5 The isolated score track features Alex North’s music in a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono recording. (Dolby Prologic IIx decoded the track into the center channel which is what makes me think it’s mono.) The enclosed six-page booklet contains some glorious color stills, black and white poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s interesting background on the film’s star and analysis of the film itself.

    In Conclusion

    3/5 (not an average) Pony Soldier won’t likely be on the top of any Tyrone Power fan’s list of must-have movies, so its appearance on Blu-ray is something of a surprise. Only 3,000 copies of the disc have been pressed. Those interested should go to www.screenarchives.com to see if copies are still available. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies. Matt Hough Charlotte, NC

     
  2. benbess

    benbess Cinematographer

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    Since Fox threw out their 3 strip negatives, I'm not surprised as the so-so PQ. Likely sourced from prints?
     
  3. Lromero1396

    Lromero1396 Supporting Actor

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    Considering that Pony Soldier was made in the early acetate age, where early acetate film stocks were even less stable than nitrate, the source element could be an Eastmancolor safety element created in the 1970s. When Fox transfered their negatives, they copied with no concern for quality. This leads to color shifts, registration errors, and color fringing amomg other problems. The dead giveaway for this is if there is a CinemaScope-era Fox logo preceding the film. If that is the case, then it's certainly an Eastman safety from the 70s.
     
  4. Eastmancolor

    Eastmancolor Stunt Coordinator

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    The early 1950's was a period where Hollywood was changing over from nitrate film to acetate safety film. Some 3-strip Technicolor productions released in 1952 were nitrate, such as SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. Some were safety. I don't know for sure if the original negative for PONY SOLDIER was nitrate or not, but if it was, it would have been discarded decades ago by the studio when they did their safety film conversions in the late '70's, early '80's. Nitrate 3-strip originals were copied to CRI (Color Reversal Internegatives) a film stock that has a short shelf life color-wise. Those CRI's have been used as the source for many Fox titles on DVD and could have possibly been used here. If PONY SOLDIER was shot on safety film, however, then Fox would still possess that negative. Since they likely wouldn't go to the expense of scanning the 3-strip negatives and digitally recombining them, they probably used an interpositive (or IP) made from the negative. If the IP is well made, it can yield pleasing results. Over the past decade Fox has been taking their fading CRI's and doing very elaborate digital restorations of them, fixing all of the anomalies digitally and then scanning out new 35mm preservation negatives. Some of these that I've seen have been stunning, such as for the musical DOWN ARGENTINE WAY, which as of yet hasn't made it's way to disc from the restored negative. The previous DVD is from an older master. I haven't seen the new PONY SOLDIER Blu-ray so I don't know if it was sourced from a new restoration negative or not, but from what I've been reading, I would guess the answer is no. It's likely made from and IP, or a video master made from the CRI sometime ago.
     
  5. Lromero1396

    Lromero1396 Supporting Actor

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    I just assumed that the early acetate stock would have gone to vinegar by now. By the way, I think Fox stopped using nitrate as of 1951, since they used Eastmancolor Monopack stock on a number of their color, academy ratio productions from 1948-53. Release prints were created by Technicolor in the dye-transfer process from the single-strip Eastman negative. The last 3-strip negative production as far as Robert Harris knows is Halls of Montezuma, which I would love to see restored and released on BD. I would like to see more info on the subject of Fox's Technicolor materials as I find it quite interesting.
     
  6. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    What Fox productions used Eastman negative 1948-53?
    RAH
     
  7. Lromero1396

    Lromero1396 Supporting Actor

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    Wasn't Green Grass of Wyoming shot on some form of monopack stock (maybe it's not Eastmancolor)? Perhaps I'm confused. Even if I sound like one, I'm certainly not an authority on the subject.
     
  8. Lromero1396

    Lromero1396 Supporting Actor

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    Duplicate post. Please delete.
     
  9. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    There were a small number of productions, some partial, shot on a 35mm Kodachrome stock, and printed via dye transfer. Perhaps you were referring to that.
    RAH
     
  10. TheVid

    TheVid Stunt Coordinator

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    All the picture issues you describe are present on THE PONY SOLDIER blu-ray - not the least of which are color registration problems, which I don't think you mentioned. I still enjoyed seeing it get the high-definition treatment (albeit for too high a price). I didn't experience any transfer issues (the pixelation and drop-outs you mentioned) with my copy. I have all the Twilight Time titles released so far, and the only disc I've ever had problems with was THE RAPTURE, which froze up frequently during the last half hour of playback. The best thing about PONY SOLDIER is the Alex North music; the isolated score track is monaural. The quality issues make PONY SOLDIER a somewhat odd choice for a Twilight Time limited edition when there are surely some more stereophonic CinemaScope films that would offer better transfers and be in greater demand.
     
  11. Lromero1396

    Lromero1396 Supporting Actor

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    That must be it. Thank you, Mr. Harris. Also, was I correct in my comment on Halls of Montezuma being a 3-strip Technicolor production?
     
  12. Mark-P

    Mark-P Producer

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    I don't know if this is confirmed, but according IMDB Son of Lassie in 1945 was the first mono-pack Technicolor production.
     
  13. Eric Vedowski

    Eric Vedowski Second Unit

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    According to the book Technicolor Movies: The History of Dye Transfer Printing by Richard W. Haines the aerial shots in "Dive Bomber" and "Captains of the Clouds" were the first use of monopack. The fire scenes in "The Forest Rangers" and the exteriors in "Lassie Come Home" also used it. "Thunderhead, Son of Flicka" used it for exteriors and interiors. info accessed via Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=DFXhGtNKh0wC&pg=PA28&dq=monopack+lassie&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ji4iUc6JB8i92gWp4ICoBA&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=monopack%20lassie&f=false
     
  14. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Sounds accurate. The three-strip cameras were far from hand-held, and mono-pack enabled a simpler means of shooting within constrained difficult to maneuver locations.
     

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