Pony Express (1953)
“”Their achievement can only be equaled…never excelled.” ABRAHAM LINCOLN”
Director: Jerry Hopper
Cast: Charlton Heston, Rhonda Fleming, Jan Sterling
Synopsis: Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickock work to establish the Pony Express and fight Indians and California Separatists who seek to destroy it.
Charlton Heston, here in the early years of his movie career, was yet to establish himself as a truly major star, even though, considering the screen time he’s given, the success of Pony Express rests on his shoulders. His features still retain the remnants of youthful softness here, and his style was still developing. It never really developed into much, to be truthful, but here the rough edges are more apparent, and you can‘t help thinking that Pony Express added little to his skill set.
Following in the footsteps of Roy Rogers and Joel McCrea, Heston plays Buffalo Bill Cody who, with the help of his chum Wild Bill Hickok (Forrest Tucker), strives to establish the eponymous pony express mail delivery service to California at a time when insurgents are trying to keep the state separate from the union. Chief amongst those attempting to sabotage Bill and Bill’s efforts is Rance Hastings (Michael Moore), the brother of Evelyn (flame-haired Rhonda Fleming) who, while initially in league with her brother, swaps sides when she gets the hots for Cody, who feels the same way about her, much to the annoyance of tomboyish Denny Russell (Jan Sterling), who has her own designs on Mr. H.
Pony Express is strictly routine, and hampered by a story that stubbornly refuses to get moving, despite its potential. This is partly because too much time is devoted to the dull romantic sub-plots, but also by the attempts of writer Charles Marquis Warren to cram too many incidents from Cody’s life into the story, irrespective of the fact that some of these incidents occurred years apart. But then that’s Hollywood moviemaking for you – the facts are never permitted to intrude on the story.
As far as performances go, Fleming could sleepwalk her way through these kind of roles, and she performs with an effortless professionalism that ticks all the boxes but provides little passion. You get the impression that Cody would fade quickly from her memory should he be out of the picture for any length of time. Sterling is just annoying, her character seeming to have wandered in from some comedy or musical filming on a neighbouring set, while Hickok is reduced to the status of Cody’s stooge, giving Forrest Tucker little worthwhile screen time and no chance to make much of an impression.
Pony Express is one of those Sunday afternoon movies that seem to have been created for the sole purpose of capitalising on Heston’s growing screen popularity and filling dead spots in the TV schedules half a century later. Bland, forgettable, with only modest entertainment value.
(Reviewed 2nd May 2012)