Pony Soldier (Blu-ray)
Directed by Joseph M. Newman
Studio: Twilight Time (Fox)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 82 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 English
MSRP: $ 29.95
Release Date: February 12, 2013
Review Date: February 16, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.