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With: Charlton Heston, Rhonda Fleming, Jan Sterling, Forrest Tucker, Michael Moore, Porter Hall, Richard Shannon, Henry Brandon, Stuart Randall, Lewis Martin
Written by: Charles Marquis Warren, based on a story by Frank Gruber
Directed by: Jerry Hopper
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 101
Date: 05/01/1953

Pony Express (1953)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Playing Bills

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Pony Express came fairly early in Charlton Heston's career, and it was only his second Western. He's clearly still exploring his movements, learning his comfort zones onscreen. As "Buffalo" Bill Cody, he tries to be cocky and laid-back, and also heroic, but he looks as if he's working at it. Still, he's quite a bit more potent in his role than poor Forrest Tucker as Wild Bill Hickock, who never seems particularly "wild."

Directed by Jerry Hopper, whose movie career was unspectacular and is probably better known for his contributions to television, Pony Express tells the story of the origins of that famous system of delivering messages. The idea is that Rance Hastings (Michael Moore), a prominent Californian, and several other interests stand to lose a great deal of money if the Pony Express goes through. So he and his sister Evelyn (Rhonda Fleming) hope to sabotage it.

Enter Buffalo Bill, who rescues them from a bogus "arrest" by fake soldiers. He has actually ruined step one of their plan, but Evelyn begins to find herself drawn to him. She becomes even more interested when they arrive in town and Denny Russel (Jan Sterling) -- a cute tomboy in jeans and short hair -- throws herself at Buffalo Bill.

Writer Charles Marquis Warren -- who also became an appealing "B" level director around this time -- keeps the talking, historical sequence balanced with some tense action scenes. Best of all is the finale, in which Buffalo Bill makes the final leg of the first historical ride by himself, while Wild Bill handles the saboteurs. Warren and Hopper cook up a terrific ending that narrows the focus and provides some tragic, ironic perspective on the historical triumph.

Indeed, by far the most refreshing thing about Pony Express is that it doesn't treat its subject with reverence. Rather, it's the basis for a good, old-fashioned Western, wherein the freedom of the west is spoiled by greed and progress.

Olive Films released this item from the Paramount vault. Though the company is verging into Blu-Rays, this one is only on DVD. Perhaps the source material wasn't good enough for high-def. But either way, it's a pretty solid-looking color transfer, with good sound (Paul Sawtell provides the rousing score). There are no extras.

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