Fantastic Friday - Favourite Horse Films Part II

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

'Hidalgo' movie poster

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, TJ, 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?

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.  

'The Black Stallion' movie poster

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?

Fantastic Friday - Favourite Horse Films Part I

While fussing one of the horses at the stables yesterday, I got to thinking about horse films that I’ve watched over the years.

So, in no particular order, here are my favourites.  But first, the reason why ‘My Friend Flicka’ isn’t on this list – I love the book more than any film that’s been made of it.

I also love the book of ‘Black Beauty’ but I enjoyed the films too.  I’ve seen the 1971 version, starring Mark Lester, and also the 1994 film.  That one received mixed reviews and didn’t do well, but I like it.

National Velvet’ (1944) was one I watched over and over again when it was released on VHS (Yeek!).  12 years old and in her first starring role, Elizabeth Taylor was wonderful as Velvet Brown.  I imagined I was her, riding The Pie.

I must confess I don’t remember much about the plot of ‘The Man from Snowy River’ (1982).  

I know it’s set in Australia, it’s about a young man whose father is killed when they chase a herd of wild horses, called Brumbies (Australian term for wild horses).  The ‘man’ goes to work for a rich guy, falls in love with his daughter, there’s something about her father refusing to acknowledge his own twin brother … The only thing I truly remember about the film and the reason it features on my list is one scene and one scene only – when the brumbies are being chased, the others give up but the ‘man’ keeps going … Still leaves me breathless:

War Horse' is a definite favourite – each time I watch it, and I have watched it quite a few times now (lost count!), it still thrills me.  As I’ve already done a post about it, I won’t say much more.

(Film education resource)

And then there’s ‘Seabiscuit’.  

When I saw the film, I didn’t know about the horse or the legendary race between him and War Admiral.  Sometime afterwards, I did read the book by Laura Hillenbrand; the film was loosely based on her book, ‘Seabiscuit: An American Legend’.  Both, film and book, I found fascinating; each version complemented the other, in my opinion.  The way the races were shot gives a real sense of what it’s like, being a jockey on a horse that’s flying along - I found it unnerving, the way the horses bunch up so close together.  It’s a wonder they don’t get tangled up!  The clip I've included is not the end scene but of the first race Seabiscuit won.

For interest’s sake, here is the original 1938 footage of the race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral; the film version was astounding:

As I’ll probably blather on about the last 2 films on my list, I’ll save them for next week.

Favourites on Friday - the Friesian and the Andalusian

At the best of times, my mind is usually filled with horse-related thoughts.  Since we returned from Spain, and not being able to do much thanks to my accident (& being bored out of my skull!!), I’ve been spending even more time thinking about horses.  And it came to me – the first time I saw a Friesian was also the first time I saw an Andalusian!  Not in the flesh (unfortunately) but on the big screen.

It was in 1985, in the film ‘Ladyhawke’, starring Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer and Matthew Broderick.  

Broderick plays a thief, known as Mouse, who escapes the dungeons of Aquila, and in the ensuing manhunt, is rescued by Navarre (Hauer), former captain of the guard in Aquila.  Navarre wants Mouse to help him enter the city so he can kill the Bishop who cursed Navarre and his love, Isabeau (Pfeiffer).

I admit the main reason I saw it was because of Rutger Hauer, but one look at his horse and that was it for me!  The baroque-style Friesian’s name was Othello; in the film he was called Goliath, and I had never seen such a magnificent-looking horse before.  I saw the film three times, just so I could get my fill of the horse on the big screen *lol*

The Andalusian makes his entrance in the final battle scene, which takes place in the church.  Navarre riding Goliath into the church is my favourite scene; the only sound is Goliath trotting noisily along the church floor.

Then the new captain rides in on the Andalusian stallion, to challenge Navarre.  Goliath rears, whinnying a challenge, and the Andalusian rears and answers!  

Oooo, gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.  I wonder how difficult it was to film that scene, with 2 stallions and in the confines of a building.

I still love this film – medieval setting; gorgeous horses; wolves; mysterious goings-on … what's not to like??  Even though I know the story by heart, it never fails to move me.  I played my original VHS copy so many times, I wore it out and had to get another one!  So pleased DVDs were invented ;o)

Thought Friesians were my favourite; but now that I’ve experienced Andalusians, I’m torn between the two *sigh*