Friday, September 18, 2015

The Republic Blogathon: The Red Pony (1949)


John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men), winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, National Book Award for Fiction, Presidential Medal of Freedom and three time Oscar nominee adapted the screenplay for The Red Pony from his own short stories/novella.

Two time Oscar winner and three time nominee Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front, The Front Page, Of Mice and Men) produced and directed The Red Pony.  Three time Grammy winner, Oscar winner and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music, Aaron Copland composed the film's score.  The Red Pony was the final film for pioneering and innovative cinematographer Tony Gaudio, a six time Oscar nominee and winner (Anthony Adverse, The Adventures of Robin Hood).




Yes folks, Herbert J. Yates fabled studio, home of the greatest B westerns of all-time, was indeed in "prestige production mode" on this film.  The result is an unhurried emotional movie experience with relatable characters and impossibly beautiful Technicolor.



Myrna Loy is top-billed as Alice Tiflin, a patient and understanding wife and mother, if not overly demonstrative.  We learn by observation of her love for her home and family, and the unceasing work she does to keep everything together.

Myrna Loy's film career began in the 1920s playing exotic maidens and extras.  Eventually her true comedic and dramatic abilities were given a chance in the 1930s with roles in films such as The Thin Man and The Rains Came.  Her movie career took a back seat to her work with the Red Cross during the war years, but in the late 1940s were lucky to see her reteamed with William Powell in The Thin Man follow-ups, and with Cary Grant in classic comedies Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, along with the immortal The Best Years of Our Lives.

Robert Mitchum plays ranch hand and expert horseman Billy Buck.  Billy is personable, hard working and proud of his prize winning mare Rosie who is months away from foaling.  He is the idol of the Tiflin's young son and manages to walk the fine line between employee and friend without overstepping his boundaries.

Mitchum's career had advanced during the 1940s from bit parts to supporting roles, including a Best Supporting Actor nomination for 1945s Story of G.I. Joe, to leading roles in the classic film-noir Out of the Past and dark westerns like Pursued and Blood on the Moon.  Along with The Red Pony, his other 1949 releases were the crime-adventure film The Big Steal and the romantic-comedy Holiday Affair.



Louis Calhern is excellent (isn't he always?) as Alice's garrulous father.  The old man constantly relives his glory days as the leader of a wagon train to the point where the repetitive stories get on people's nerves.  However, his heart is in the right place if he doesn't always think before he speaks.  

Louis Calhern was the veteran of 28 Broadway plays ranging from comedies to tragedies (King Lear) in a period from 1923 to 1955.  That same range is seen in his film roles from Duck Soup to The Asphalt Jungle.  In 1951 he recreated his stage role of Oliver Wendell Holmes in The Magnificent Yankee and received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.



Shepperd Strudwick plays Fred Tiflin.  As a father, Fred has difficulty displaying his affection in his efforts to instill discipline in his young son.  Fred is not a natural rancher, but a former teacher who feels out of place in his community and, in the period we observe them, in his family.

Like co-star Louis Calhern, Shepperd Strudwick had a long Broadway career of 30 roles from 1929 to 1981 (As You Like It, The Bat, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), and one Tony nomination.  He has over 50 television critics from the 1950s to the 1980s which include two Daytime Emmy nominations for Love of Life and One Life to Live.  Strudwick's film career comprised mostly of second leads in well-remembered films such as All the King's Men and A Place in the Sun.



Peter Miles plays young Tom Tilford, an imaginative and curious 10 years old.  Prone to telling stories, he is somewhat of an outsider from his playmates.  He idolizes the confident Billy Buck and loves his family, although they share the disconnect of a generation gap.  Tom is basically kind and wants to be good, but now he is at the age of confusion as to his own actions and those of others.

Peter Miles was actually Gerald Perreau-Saussine, the eldest of acting siblings who made their mark in movies and on television in the 40s and 50s.  Sister Gigi Perreau enjoyed the longest career including films Shadow on the Wall and There's Always Tomorrow, plus over 40 television credits from Four Star Playhouse to Adam-12.  She and Peter played siblings on 1960s The Betty Hutton Show.  Sisters Janine and Lauren also made film and TV appearances.  In his later years, Peter was a teacher and writer (That Cold Day in the Park).



The Red Pony is an episodic look at a time in the life of a family as seen through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy.  When young Tommy is gifted a red pony from his father the boy's entire focus shifts to that pony.  He learns how to care for the creature and how to train it.  Tommy is proud of the pony and his newfound responsibility which he jealously guards.  At the same time cracks appear in what should be the solid foundation of the family.  Tommy's parents briefly separate as his father questions his path.  The adults all struggle with Tommy's upbringing as to what is appropriate for him to learn about life and death at his age.

The pony, Gabilan, becomes ill and a combination of unforeseen accidents contribute to his death.  Turning from his own part in the tragedy, Tommy places the blame on Billy Buck who feels the slight keenly.  Billy promises Tommy Rosie's foal as a way to make amends.  Billy senses that Rosie's delivery may be difficult and a choice between Rosie's life or that of the foal is in question.  Billy will sacrifice Rosie to get the foal for Tommy and that decision leads to a growing up moment for the youngster.  The safe delivery of the foal leads to a moment of pure joy and a catharsis for everyone at the ranch.



The Republic Blogathon hosted by Toby Roan at 50 Westerns From the 50s runs from Friday, September 18th to Sunday, September 20th.  Click here for all the fabulous contributions.








  

17 comments:

  1. Nice (and unusual) choice, Caftan Woman! It's a good reminder of the legendary names associated with Republic occasionally, certainly in their peak years.

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    1. An unusual picture from Republic, it has been a longtime favourite of mine and such an ambitious project for the studio is worth remembering.

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  2. Nicely done. I'm familiar with Steinbeck's source material yet I've never managed to get around to seeing this film version - I don't know quite why that is as the cast and crew are packed with favorites of mine. Thanks for the reminder.

    Colin

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    1. I really like the fact that Steinbeck adapted his own work for the screen giving it a truly special aura.

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  3. The lovely screen captures you provided for your very fine write up have sold me
    on this one.
    I'm ashamed to say that up to now I never knew THE RED PONY was in fact a
    Republic Production.

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    1. It was easy to capture such vivid images. The Technicolor aspect of the film is one of its greatest strengths. Such a movie is not one we would immediately associate with Republic. They knew how to craft good, solid pictures, but I imagine occasionally Yates would look at the other studios and get the yen or ambition to show them what's what.

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  4. Lovely story and great post. I have a soft spot for Republic, actually.

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  5. I really enjoyed this -- including, as others have mentioned, the beautiful scenes shown here. I must admit I've kind of avoided this film, despite loving Mitchum and Loy, as I was worried the animal subject matter would be hard for me to watch. You've convinced me I should try it!

    Thanks for a lovely post!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

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    1. I feel it is a worthwhile film and hope you give it chance someday. While it is harsh when Tommy looses his pony, it is an important incident in the lives of all.

      I would be remiss if I didn't warn that there is a scene with buzzards which it rather harrowing, but in context not as disturbing as I found it in print. Steinbeck and Milestone kept the intensity without unnecessarily upsetting their audience.

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  6. I've been putting off seeing this one because I don't like sad movies about animals dying but evidently like Rick in Casablanca I was misinformed. Great review, and I'll be sure to give this one a view.

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    1. Ultimately, the story is about the mistakes and choices we make, and how to go forward with both. Life, and death, happen to us all - and on the ranch it is more open.

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  7. I've been putting off seeing this one because I don't like sad movies about animals dying but evidently like Rick in Casablanca I was misinformed. Great review, and I'll be sure to give this one a view.

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  8. When I saw it as a youth, I focused on the story (much like The Yearling). It wasn't until years later that I appeciated Steinbeck's theme and the eloquent performances. A fine review, enhanced by your own comments.

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    1. Thank you so much, Rick. There are so many movies like this that speak to us with different messages at different times in our lives.

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  9. I am ashamed to admit that I have still not seen it. I've always intended to, and don't know why I've somehow let it go by.

    Your warm observations have me resolved to remedy that soon.

    I too am pretty affected by the death of animals but I do have movies among those I love where that is a subject--they are always about more than that. And I don't mind feeling that emotion over it because it is a story when it's in a movie, no matter how much it resonates with our life experience. That does make it a different for me.

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    1. The movie presents the most shattering emotions often in the subtlety of the performances. I think you will find much to appreciate in "The Red Pony".

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