Red Pony on a Pedestal
Whilst a relatively lok key movie "The Red Pony" actually has a lot of familiar names involved in its production including John Steinbeck whose story it is based upon and Steinbeck himself adapted it in to a screenplay. But whilst low key "The Red Pony" is popular with audiences with some seeing it as a story about isolation where five people on a ranch fail to connect with each other whilst others see it as a coming of age style movie where a young boy learns various life lessons. For me "The Red Pony" is a coming of age tale focusing on Tom, the boy, and the events which change his life and lead to him growing up.
Ten year old Tom (Peter Miles) lives with his mum, dad, his old grandpa and their ranch hand Billy (Robert Mitchum - Out of the Past) on their small ranch in the Salina Valley. His father having come from the city doesn't find ranch life that easy especially with Grandpa being an old pioneer who constantly talks of the past. And to make matters worse Tom idolises Billy who sees him as a cowboy who can do anything. When Tom's dad Fred (Shepperd Strudwick) buys him a pony it leads to Tom having to learn some tough life lessons as tragedy strikes.
Steinbeck's original novel was split into 4 episodes and whilst the screenplay for "The Red Pony" doesn't differentiate between the episodes implicitly you can still see them. We have the story of Fred who struggles with life on a ranch and would love for the family to move with him to the city. It is Fred who also leads us into the next episode as Grandpa discovers that not everyone enjoys hearing his tales of how things were especially as he repeats them leading to him feeling like he has no purpose when things boil over.
But in many ways the real story in "The Red Pony" is all about Tom and Billy as Tom idolises the ranch hand and listens to him more than his father. It is Billy who teaches Tom how to look after the Pony and who Tom believes when ever he says something. This leads to Tom's image of Billy being shattered when a series of events leads to tragedy and suddenly not only is Billy a liar in Tom's young eyes but also to blame for things. It is such a realistic little episode because many a boy has had their image of someone they idolise shattered when they learn something about them they didn't expect,
Now with out going into too much detail "The Red Pony" is also emotional and hard hitting when tragedy strikes and there are scenes which considering how old this movie is are surprisingly shocking. But having said that this is a movie which at the same time is a great family drama because of the life lessons it teaches and if you are looking for a movie to watch with children to help them deal with certain things, from dealing with animals to idolising someone it is still pretty good.
What is surprising is that "The Red Pony" has considerable talent from Myrna Loy who plays Alice the Matriarch to Robert Mitchum who is Billy. But whilst all these actors deliver their characters especially Louis Calhern as the Grandfather they are all restrained, quiet performances which allow the story to come to the fore rather than their performances. Having said that Peter Miles as Tom is quite special and the look of horror on his face in various dramatic scenes is brilliant for a child.
What this all boils down to is that "The Red Pony" is a low key movie, a quiet little family drama with big stars giving restrained performances. But the life lessons it gets across are what make the movie and you are sucked in to this evolving drama as it moves towards its powerful climax.