The Red Pony (1949 film)

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The Red Pony
Poster of The Red Pony.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Produced by Lewis Milestone
Screenplay by John Steinbeck
Story by John Steinbeck
Starring Myrna Loy
Robert Mitchum
Music by Aaron Copland
Cinematography Tony Gaudio
Edited by Harry Keller
Color process Technicolor
Charles K. Feldman presents
A Lewis Milestone Production
Distributed by A Republic Production
Release date
  • March 28, 1949 (1949-03-28)(United States)
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million [1]

The Red Pony is a 1949 American rural drama film based on John Steinbeck's 1937 novella of the same name. Steinbeck also wrote the screenplay for this film. [2]



A young boy, Tom Tiflin (Peter Miles), is given a small pony by his father (Shepperd Strudwick). Tom asks the stable helper, Billy Buck (Robert Mitchum), to help him raise and train it so that it can be ridden. During a rain storm the pony gets out of the stable and, having been soaked, becomes fevered. Despite Buck's best efforts to nurse the pony it develops strangles and requires a tracheotomy. Shortly after the procedure, the pony escapes from the farm. Tom follows the pony's hoof prints to a gully where it has died and is being eaten by vultures. He blames Buck for not saving its life. Buck, feeling remorse, prepares to kill his own pregnant mare in order to give Tom a colt, believing the unborn may not have turned. Tom grows angry at Buck's willingness to sacrifice a horse and steals his knife. When they return to the stable the foal has been born naturally, with both mother and colt surviving.


In adapting his novella into a screenplay, Steinbeck focused mainly on the chapters "The Gift" and "The Promise". Characters' names were changed from those in the book: Jody Tiflin became "Tom", and his parents Carl and Ruth became "Fred" and "Alice". The film also features a much happier ending than the novella: in the book, Billy Buck cannot deliver the foal naturally and so has to kill the mare in order to perform a cesarean section so as to save her unborn foal. Other violent scenes, such as Jody beating a vulture to death, were also toned down or omitted entirely for the film adaptation.


Uncredited (in order of appearance)
Wee Willie Davis truck driver
George Tyne Charlie
Poodles Hanneford clown
Eddie Borden circus performer
Max Wagner bartender

Opening narration

In Central California many small ranches sit in the hollows of the skirts of the Coast Range Mountains — some the remnants of old and gradually disintegrating homesteads... some the remains of Spanish grants... to one of them in the foothills to the west of Salinas Valley... the dawn comes as it comes to a thousand others...

Shepperd Strudwick in trailer for The Red Pony Shepperd Strudwick.jpg
Shepperd Strudwick in trailer for The Red Pony


The film is notable today because of the original score composed by Aaron Copland, which he also arranged and published as an orchestral suite. Copland himself conducted London's New Philharmonia Orchestra in a recording of the music for Columbia Records, which was later reissued on CD by Sony Records.


Critical reception

Film critic Bosley Crowther gave the film a mixed review, writing, "But, unfortunately, the story does ramble, and its several interlaced strands are often permitted to dangle or get lost in the leisurely account. An extraneous family situation involving the youngster's Ma and Pa, wherein the father has trouble with his ego, likewise confuses the plot. In directing the picture, Mr. Milestone has adopted a frankly casual style which further invests the proceedings with a languid quality." [3]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

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  1. Variety 18 February 1948 p 14
  2. The Red Pony on IMDb
  3. Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times , "Red Pony, Based on Steinbeck Novel, New Bill at Mayfair -- Mitchum, Loy in Cast", March 9, 1949. Accessed: June 22, 2013.
  4. "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06.