Fantastic Friday - Favourite Horse Films Part II

Continuing from last week, next up, we have ‘Hidalgo’.  

Before this film, I’d never heard of Frank Hopkins, the Western endurance rider.  I’d like to think that his story is true, that he was part Lakota, that he had won 400 endurance races, that he had been a rider in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and that he had competed in a 3,000-mile endurance race in Arabia in 1890.  Though there are sites that say all this and more are true, there are others who dispute them, mainly because there is no evidence to back any of it up.  And Frank Hopkins was, apparently, known as a teller of tall tales.

The film purports to be ‘based on a true story’; maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.  Personally, I don’t care; I enjoyed the film immensely.  Not only because of the horses, especially Hidalgo himself, but also because of Viggo Mortensen, one of my favourite actors.  The film focusses on Frank Hopkins' mixed parentage and his struggle to work out where he truly belongs.  The one certainty in his life seems to be his horse.

Part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, Hopkins and Hidalgo are billed as “The world’s greatest distance horse and rider”.  This fanciful claim is challenged by a wealthy Arab sheikh, Sheikh Riyadh (wonderfully played by Omar Sharif); he asks that the show either stop using that phrase, or allow Hopkins and Hidalgo to prove the claim by competing in the ‘Ocean of Fire’ race, an annual 3,000-mile survival race across the Najd desert.  The custodian of the legendary al-Khamsa line of Arabs, the sheikh doesn’t, for one minute, believe that a little, mixed breed pony can stand a chance against his pure-bred horses.  Apart from the stiff competition, Hopkins and Hidalgo also have to face harrowing conditions, and contemptuous hostility from the Arabs for the infidel and his ‘impure’ horse.

I found the film tremendously enjoyable; it reminded me of the Westerns I watched as a child – high-spirited, bold and plain old fun.

An interesting aside – 5 horses were used to play Hidalgo; Viggo Mortensen developed a bond with the main one and bought him after filming ended.  Mortensen also purchased two of the horses he used in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films.  What's not to like about the guy?

Viggo and TJ, the horse he bought, at the LA Premiere of 'Hidalgo' (Albert L. Ortega)

Finally, ‘The Black Stallion’.  I guess if I had to choose, this might well be my favourite.  It’s one of the rare instances where I prefer the film to the book of the same name by Walter Farley.  

In a nutshell, it’s about the love between a boy and a horse.  The film is set in the 1940s; the boy, Alec Ramsay, is on a ship with his father, somewhere in the Mediterranean.  Also on board are, to Alec, mysterious foreigners and their prize horse, a magnificent black stallion.  During a severe storm one night, the ship is lost; Alec and the horse are the only survivors.

The first half of the film is basically boy and horse surviving on a deserted island.  This is my favourite part of the film.  Showing the growing rapport between the two, it’s beautifully filmed, an uplifting experience, almost epic but in a quiet way.

In the second half, after they’re rescued, the film becomes a straightforward ‘mystery horse’ race, with The Black, as Alec has named him, being trained to challenge two champion horses.  Mickey Rooney has the part of the trainer in what seems to be a reprisal of his role in ‘National Velvet’ with Alec in Elizabeth Taylor’s part.  But the last race, I found quite exhilarating and, again, beautifully shot.

The stallion that played ‘The Black’ was Cass Ole, a Texas-bred Arabian stallion.  Mostly black, he did have white pasterns and a white star on his forehead which had to be dyed black.  His owners had instructed that he not be used for the stunts, and the running and swimming scenes; three other horses were used instead.

The young actor who played Alec, Kelly Reno, grew up on a ranch with horses; his ease around the stallion was very natural.  Unfortunately, he was involved in a serious accident when he was not quite 20; the vehicle he was driving was hit by a semi-truck.  The long recovery from his serious injuries meant an end to his acting career.

Some kind person put this on Youtube … gorgeous:

Well, I hope you enjoyed this list I compiled.  Have you watched all these films, have I introduced you to new ones ... what are your favourites?