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Playing the Ponies
Remind Me
,The Lion and the Horse

The Lion and the Horse

In its depiction of the primal bond between man and animal, Warner Brothers' The Lion and the Horse (1952) takes a somewhat more lighthearted approach to material that would recur with darker overtones in John Huston's The Misfits (1961) and David Miller's Lonely Are the Brave (1962) before gaining New Age primacy with the Robert Redford vehicles The Electric Horseman (1979) and The Horse Whisperer (1998) - all contemporary westerns about modern day cowboys displaced by modernity and betrayed by a society that has husbanded itself away from the healing influence of nature. Directed for Warners by Louis King (hired, most likely, due to his earlier horse operas Thunderhead, Son of Flicka [1945] and Smoky [1946]) from a script by playwright/screenwriter Crane Wilbur, The Lion and the Horse was a chance for movie heavy Steve Cochran (White Heat [1949], Storm Warning [1951]) to take a much-needed break from bad guy roles in order to step into the ankle boots of Ben Kirby, a kind-hearted but down-on-his-luck horse hunter who falls for an untamed stallion he names Wildfire.

If Warner's was taking a chance on making a nice guy out of Steve Cochran, the casting of The Lion and the Horse's supporting players was otherwise according-to-Hoyle. Reliable shitheel Ray Teal brings the right measure of slit-eyed hatefulness to his venal rodeo impresario, untroubled by the prospect of crippling Wildfire if he can turn a fast buck at the ticket booth. Avuncular Harry Antrim (the crusty but benign R. H. Macy from Miracle on 34th Street [1947]) is a loveable lump of prairie farmer, whom fate has left with the custody of a 9 year-old Sherry Jackson, a precocious orphan in bib overalls who can talk to the animals and cuss like an owlhoot. King rounded out the film's complement of minor roles with cowboy actors Bob Steele and Tom Tyler, while George O'Hanlon provides comic relief as a pint-sized hired hand who practices the ukulele along with a how-to record voiced by an unbilled Frank Nelson; a familiar face from Warners' "Joe McDoakes" comedy shorts, O'Hanlon would later supply the voice of the space age paterfamilias of Hanna-Barbera's The Jetsons.

Kanab Utah's Mount Zion National Park had been a reliable backdrop for Hollywood productions going back to the silent era but location photography for The Lion and the Horse (whose original title was The Blue Stallion) benefited from then-new roads laid out for uranium and plutonium prospecting. The locale's 7,500 foot altitude had an adverse effect on the coterie of trained animals trucked in from Los Angeles for shooting. Plagued by lethargy, a lion named Jackie, a skunk named One-Shot, a crow named Jimmy and a squirrel named Nutcake were all treated to time in an oxygen tent; the film's equine actors, most notably the seal brown stallion Supreme Wonder (who was discovered on a ranch in Napa and billed as Wildfire in both publicity releases and the film's credits), were not so hindered, having been ridden onto the location with time to acclimate to the change in altitude.

The premiere of The Lion and the Horse marked the launch of Warners' new tint process, WarnerColor. Developed over twelve years in collaboration with Eastman Kodak at a cost of $500,000, WarnerColor was a bid to outdo Technicolor at a fraction of the cost and labor intensity. Warners booked the Academy Award Theatre on March 26, 1962 for an invitational preview, with a guest list that read like a Who's Who of Tinsel Town luminaries. Touted by Jack L. Warner as "a gratifying sequel to our introduction of sound pictures twenty-six years ago," WarnerColor was employed on a number of subsequent features, including the Randolph Scott vehicle Carson City (1952), the Crane Wilbur-scripted The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (1952), Santiago (1956) with Alan Ladd, The Pajama Game (1957) with Doris Day and The Old Man and the Sea (1958) starring Spencer Tracy, before the process was retired in favor of a downgraded and more affordable Technicolor.

Producer: Bryan Foy
Director: Louis King
Screenplay: Crane Wilbur
Cinematography: Edwin B. DuPar
Art Direction: Stanley Fleischer
Music: Max Steiner; Howard Jackson (uncredited)
Film Editing: William H. Ziegler
Cast: Steve Cochran (Ben Kirby), Wildfire, Ray Teal (Dave Tracy), Bob Steele (Matt Jennings), Harry Antrim (Cas Bagley), George O'Hanlon ('Shorty' Cameron), Sherry Jackson (Jenny), Ed Hinton (Al Richie), William Fawcett ('Pappy' Cole), House Peters, Jr. ('Rocky' Steuber)

by Richard Harland Smith



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