In the coast range mountains on the western edge of the Salinas Valley is a ranch where Tom, a lad of about ten, longs for a pony. He lives with his mom, who was born there, her dad, a talkative pioneer who misses the old West, Tom's dad Fred Tiflin, who comes from the city and after years on the ranch doesn't feel at home there, and Billy, their trusted hand, a real cowboy. While Fred has to sort out whether he wants to stay a rancher and come to terms with his son being closer to Billy than to himself, Tom gets a pony and learns directly about responsibility and loss. What lessons can each learn, and are tragedy and hard choices all that life offers? Are laughter and joy anywhere? Written by
The Red Pony was an early novel of John Steinbeck dealing with memories of his childhood in the Salinas Valley in California. It was Republic's prestige film for 1949 away from the B westerns that were the company's bread and butter. Herbert J. Yates even had the good sense not to have wife Vera Hruba Ralston in it.
He probably spent half the studio budget signing as stars Myrna Loy who was free lancing and Robert Mitchum from RKO. In Mitchum's case it might have been a question of a favor or two owed to Howard Hughes. Both studios were B picture companies.
The story takes place like Steinbeck's other classic, East of Eden, during the years before American entry into World War I. The Tiflin family has recently moved on that ranch. For Myrna Loy it was a case of going back to her roots on both the screen and the film, in real life she grew up on a ranch in Montana. But her husband Sheppard Strudwick is a school teacher and a city kid and feels an outsider. Especially when their kid Peter Miles starts hanging around with ranch hand Robert Mitchum.
Anyway the lad is given a roan colored pony, a really good looking and smart animal as well. The pony and the boy take to each other and Miles follows Mitchum's instructions on care and feeding implicitly. He even teaches the pony some tricks one of which will innocently bring about the animal's ultimate demise and a Tiflin family crisis.
Though the Tiflins are quite a bit up the economic scale from the Baxters, The Red Pony is very similar in plot in a lot of respects to the Marjorie Keneston Rawlings classic, The Yearling. Both are nice family films in which the boy protagonists face crises involving their respective pets. They also have some disturbing scenes in them, young Peter Miles's scrape with some buzzards might give real little kids nightmares. I may have some myself tonight.
Still if you are willing to risk the bad dreams, The Red Pony is a fine family film that still holds up well after 59 years.
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