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Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Classic Film Review: The Red Pony (1949)

The Red Pony stars Peter Miles as Tom, a rancher's son who longs for a pony. When he's given one, however, he learns sharp lessons about responsibility and pain. The cast also features Myrna Loy as Alice Tiflin, Shepperd Strudwick as Fred Tiflin, Robert Mitchum as farmhand Billy Buck and Louis Calhern as Grandfather with a brief appearance from Margaret Hamilton as a schoolteacher. Also watch out for an eight year old Beau Bridges as one of Tom's friends. Based on an episodic novella by John Steinbeck, the screenplay was also written by him.

This is a gentle film where, really, very little happens. It hinges on Tom and, fortunately, Peter Miles does a very good job as the boy. Rather surprisingly - for me anyway - Robert Mitchum has a good rapport with Miles, making their scenes together some of the best of the film. While I enjoyed Mitchum, Loy and Calhern, it felt as though they were all bigger than their parts. The same couldn't be said for Shepperd Strudwick, who feels tacked on as an afterthought, both in terms of character and actor.

It does a very good job of grounding the story in its time and location and it's delicately shot. There are moments which feel a little outlandish - Tom imagining leading an army on the way to school, for instance - and it's fairly obvious from the outset that disaster's going to strike. If you don't have a high tolerance for films with child leads then you won't like this one. However, as part of Robert Mitchum's filmography, I found it fascinating. Probably not one I'll watch again, but I'm glad I saw it.

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