Lewis Milestone’s film of John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony is perfectly respectable screen translation. Setting aside my personal issues with the story, the music, and the kind of story this is, that veneer of literary respectability is also what keeps the film from being what you might call an exciting watch. Unlike Milestone’s 1939 film of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men — a film that plunges the viewer headlong into its story — The Red Pony seems to be content to merely reproduce the events of its tale without really getting inside them. It feels a little like the Classics Illustrated 15 cent comic book version. It’s there in outline — and as a faithful representation of the story, it’s fine — but the feeling is off. It’s tempting to blame this on the lackluster performances of Peter Miles as the boy and Shepperd Strudwick as his ineffectual father, and in truth they’re not very good. But really, it goes deeper than that. With the exception of a scenery-chewing Louis Calhern, there’s more posing going on than acting. Even Myrna Loy seems to exist mostly for Milestone to carefully light her face for her close-ups where she looks concerned, thoughtful, or wiser than the rest of the cast. It adds up to a generally good-looking movie that a clever junior high school student could use as a source for a book report. On that level, it’s fine — and very respectable.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Red Pony Sunday, Nov. 9, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.