Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickok join forces to establish a mail route that can get mail from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, in ten days. Along the way they must battle bad weather, hostile Indians and outlaws intent on robbing the mail and shutting down the entire operation. Written by
Although the real Buffalo Bill (William F. Cody) and Wild Bill Hickock claimed to have won their spurs as young Pony Express riders, there is no evidence that they ever worked for the company. See more »
Charlton Heston is billed as 'Captain William Frank "Buffalo Bill" Cody. "Buffalo Bill"'s full name was William Frederick Cody. See more »
Directed by Jerry Hopper and starring Charlton Heston, Forrest Tucker and Rhonda Fleming, Pony Express is adapted from a story written by Frank Gruber. It revolves around the birth of the Pony Express and how it linked California to the rest of the United States, thus preventing it from becoming a separate republic. Buffalo Bill Cody (Heston) and Wild Bill Hickok (Tucker) are the principal characters in the formation of the St Joseph-Sacramento speed run that has long since passed into folklore. Very much a fictionalised account of the "Express" and its principals, this tale deals in an attempt to form a separatist movement from the Union and the trials and tribulations that Cody & Hickok go thru in order to successfully launch the "Express". Cue Indian attacks, with the Indians being armed by corrupt business men, and sinister plotting by the seemingly affable Hastings siblings (Michael Moore & Fleming).
A loose remake of the 1924/25 silent film of the same name, Hopper's movie suffers from being overlong and for spending too much time with the Hastings sub-plot. It's only when we get to the last quarter that the film gathers apace, until then we are left with only Heston's gusto and Fleming's sexuality to hold our attention. Director Hopper struggles to craft any energy from the number of dialogue driven set-ups, and even a Mano-Mano fight to the death between Cody and Yellow Hand (Pat Hogan) is undeniably flat. Thank god then for Heston giving it brio. A few years away from career defining roles, he seems to be enjoying himself and puts ebullient life into the film when it starts to sag. Fleming too is a highpoint. When not asked to lead off awful films like Bullwhip, Fleming was a more than capable actress, helped enormously by her sexiness and ability to own her scenes. She raises temperatures here considerably with one particular scene as both Jan Sterling (as Tomboy Denny) and herself each take a bath.
Thankfully the finale doesn't follow suit with what has gone before it, with Hopper gaining a little redemption with this action quarter. The momentum is built up as we approach the first "Express" run, a gunfight is well staged and the shots of the horses bolting along the plains are a joy; in particular one shot as man and beast speed off under a blood red sky (well done cinematographer Ray Rennahan). Then it's the inevitable showdown where Heston flexes his gun toting muscles and a surprise development earns the picture an extra plaudit. So a real mixed bag for sure then. Well worth a watch for Heston purists and Fleming lusters. And indeed for Western fans who are versed in the lower grade genre entries so prominent in the 1950s. But it clearly doesn't fulfil its potential and the snippets of good only further make one feel a touch annoyed once the end credit booms out from the screen. 5.5/10
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