Plucky lady rancher Stormy Billings (Dale Evans) is eager to tame a band of wild horses roaming around her land unaware that smugglers are also plotting to use them to sneak diamonds across the Mexican border. Luckily Stormy finds an ally in famed horse trainer, singing cowboy and all-round good guy Roy Rogers (as always, playing himself) who rides in with his super-intelligent horse Trigger (as always, playing himself), tag-along band the Riders of the Purple Sage and comedy sidekick Sparrow Biffle (Pat Brady) (love that name!) Unfortunately Roy's heroic opposition of dastardly outlaw Ed Hart (Dale Van Sickel) has unforeseen and quite drastic consequences. Not only for himself but his beloved Trigger.
Fans rate The Golden Stallion as the finest western vehicle for singing cowboy Roy Rogers and his faithful 'wonder horse' Trigger. Indeed the film is often cited as a personal favourite by Quentin Tarantino, a huge fan of prolific director William Witney who made what seem like a billion serials and western movies (along with other more diverse fare) before transferring his skills to direct what seem like a billion episodes of TV westerns. It is not hard to see why fans respond to The Golden Stallion. While the plot seems initially a straightforward hero foils bad guys horse opera the film itself has a uniquely lyrical quality. Part of which stems from the grandeur and poetry Witney and cinematographer Jack Marta (who among other films would go on to shoot Duel (1971) with Steven Spielberg) bring to the wildlife photography. Scenes of wild horses kicking up dust clouds while they gallop across the sweeping plains remain remarkably vivid and atmospheric.
Yet the other key factor determining the film's success are its string of surprise plot twists. Scripter Sloan Nibley takes the story in directions that prove both genuinely unexpected and heartwarming. At first viewers may ponder whether Trigger had one heck of an agent. For the horse lands second-billing ahead of leading lady Dale Evans (gutsy and appealing as heroine Stormy opposite real-life spouse Roy Rogers). However the answer becomes apparent when a shock death has Trigger framed as an honest to god murder suspect! Rather than see the authorities have his best pal put down, Roy himself takes the blame and winds up doing a three-year stint in jail (this film squeezes three whole years into sixty-seven minutes) Whereupon Trigger replaces Roy as the lead! Not only that but Witney miraculously draws an actual acting performance from the wonder horse, by turns charismatic and haunting. While poor Roy does his time on a prison chain-gang we follow Trigger as he goes on the run with the fetching filly leader of the wild pack. Then eventually sires a son Stormy unimaginatively christens Trigger Jr. Bit by bit Trigger reverts back to the old feral ways to the point where Roy, after his eventual release from jail, has to coax back the horse he once knew. Plus there are those pesky smugglers to deal with.
On paper all of this sounds absurd and outlandish in the extreme. Yet under Witney's deft touch the engaging ensemble cast play this for the most sincere and heartfelt drama. Briskly paced with a snappy script laden with peppy dialogue and lovable albeit one-dimensional characters, The Golden Stallion has a remarkably modern feel to it. In particular Witney's action sequences are truly dynamic and wild, often utilizing in-camera tricks that like aspects of the story border on the surreal yet play beautifully. Naturally Roy and Dale perform a duet while Nibley scripts keeps throwing surprises including a big one towards the lively third act.