Ben Kirby (Steve Cochran) was part of a team who captured and tamed wild horses in the Wyoming region, but one day he was out with them and they spotted a black stallion (Wildfire) which fascinated them, especially how resourceful it was when it came to protecting its herd. It was such a magnificent specimen that they had to tame it, and Ben in particular wanted the horse all to himself, so after a long battle where he lassoed it and was dragged through a river and over the land, he managed to calm the beast down. He then set about rendering it more amenable to human contact, which involved fencing the animal off in a huge cave and giving it food and water; pretty soon it was beginning to get used to Ben...
The Lion and the Horse was one of nearly a hundred movies directed by Louis King, many of them Westerns which he especially loved to craft, being an outdoorsy type in his work. A dedicated, workmanlike talent, maybe he never made a classic, but his efforts were appreciated at the time, and this piece was one of those that picked up a following for its family friendly appearance, firing up the imaginations of many kids who watched it. Much of that could be put down to the strong hint the title offers you of what was in store, it was not messing about, the grand finale really did feature a lion squaring off against a horse, though the special effects that were brought to bear to create the sequence left something to be desired.
No, they didn't simply place a lion and a horse in a ring and film the results, there were animal safety regulations in place even in the far-off Hollywood of 1952, although the scenes where Wildfire (in his sole screen appearance) was tamed or hassled by overbearing humans were fairly strong stuff; either the horse was a well-trained actor or it was seriously pissed off during those bits, and you would hope it was the former. The ethics of taking wild horses and taming them were delved into, that said somewhat predictably the film didn't find anything wrong with Ben's breaking of Wildfire when he obviously was a nature lover and "at one" with the land, so that excused him. Besides, the rodeo owner who swindles him out of the beast behind his back was presented as so much worse, in comparison Ben was a pussycat.
This was curious as he was played by Cochran, a bad boy fixture of the tabloid press whose womanising ways were often the subject of the gossip columns. He was used to playing villains, yet here he was essaying someone thoroughly decent, if rugged and strong-willed, and it truly suited him, to the extent that you could well understand what all those female conquests saw in him (check out his life story to find out more about the bizarre mystery of his ocean-going death, surrounded by women. Well, two women and one teenage girl. Oh dear). He was not given a romantic lead here, perhaps indicating the kiddie matinee destination of the movie, but he did have a female who adored him in the shape of ten-year-old Sherry Jackson, before her blossoming into bombshell roles later in the sixties, and there was a very sweet rapport between them that also showed Cochran off to his advantage. All in all, one of those films that looked bog standard but turned out surprisingly engrossing, not a bad state to be in. Music by Max Steiner.