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THE BLACK STALLION (1980)
Directed by Carroll Ballard, this 1979 adaptation of the classic children's book by Walter Farley tells the story of a young boy named Alec (Kelly Reno) who is befriended by a magnificent black horse after being shipwrecked on a deserted island. After Alec and the horse are rescued, Alec receives a hero's welcome and the story shifts to the racetrack, where Alec and the black stallion are soon competing for a storybook finish in a race against two famous competing horses.
Executive Producer: Francis Coppola - Zoetrope Studios.
Directed by: Carroll Ballard.
A stirring, riveting, courageous adventure tale of "a ship-wrecked boy, the horse that rescues him and the victory that awaits them both."
Considered by many to be the best children and family film since the Wizard of Oz, "The Black Stallion," through its marvelous cinematography, music, direction, terrific script, talented cast, wonderful editing, and glorious production values, brings to life in an entertaining fashion, powerful statements about the relationship between trust and friendship and personal strength. It is about the powerful bond between friends; a boy and his horse, man and boy, a wild horse and human beings. The resulting trust and faith in one another becomes instilled beyond words and definitions, which empowers all the lonely characters in the script, helping them to find the personal courage to conquer personal fears and problems through each other and through courses of action that are hard to do.
This story starts off with 10 year old Alec Ramsey (Kelly Reno) and his father (Hoyt Axton) who have a close, father-son relationship, vacationing on a cruise ship off the coast of Africa, in the time period of the late forties. While his father is busy playing poker, Alec makes friends with a wild, Arabian stallion, whom he calls "The Black." This powerful stallion is the property of a rather nasty master (Dogmi Lardi) who catches Alec giving the horse sugar cubes, scaring him away. Then, in the middle of the night, the ship catches fire, while in the middle of a storm, and Alec finds himself overboard in the cold water and in big trouble. While the horse swims by him and he was able to grab hold of the rope, his beloved father and the rest of the passengers all die when the ship sinks suddenly. Thus, begins the beautifully filmed, well done first half of the movie, that shows the adventures of Alex and The Black, and their developing bond of trust and friendship on the island, which heart broken Alex needs after losing his father, and which the horse needs and enjoys, after finally finding a supportive bond to a trustworthy, loving human being.
The film's messages about the importance of trust and friendship, which empowers us with strength and courage in our lives, are further developed when Alec and The Black return to civilization. After Alec and the stallion are rescued from the island by fishermen, they both come back to civilization with new challenges to overcome.
The Black, who was at first kept in Alex's backyard, is startled by the garbage men one morning, who have the misfortune of looking too much like his nasty old master. The Black consequently escapes the backyard, and winds up on the large farm of an ex-horse trainer, Henry Dailey (Mickey Rooney). Daily, at one time, was a successful horse trainer, but now lives by himself out on his farm alone, without any prospects of future success, becoming a lonely, old has-been.
The Black and Alec offer Henry a chance to change his life. When the boy finds The Black, he becomes friends with Henry, and the two of them not only provide each other with much needed company and support, but unite to hatch a secret plan to first of all train Alec to be a jockey, cajole The Black to wear a bridle and saddle, and then somehow get the horse into a legitimate race. Henry must put his belief in the horse and the boy on the line, muster up his courage to try again his hand at training, and get the horse into a race, trying to use old connections one more time.
If the plan develops as planned, and he succeeds in becoming a jockey good enough to ride in a race, then Alex must muster up his personal courage and try to convince his mother to let him race the horse, which is no small problem. Alec's newly widowed mother,(Teri Garr) while overjoyed at getting her son back, grieves for her husband, and is afraid of losing Alec once again.
Caleb Deschanel's cinematography is "simply breathtaking, visual banquet" a crowning achievement in his career, which rivals such classics as "2001, A Space Odyssey." It is one of the greatest examples of what can be done using 35 mm film. For nearly the first hour, not more than a few pages of dialogue are spoken. Yet the camera is able, from the beginning of the film, to tell a complicated story as well as evoke powerful emotions with nothing but pure visuals, that are enhanced by Carmine Coppola's musical score that really reflects every "change in mood and feeling in every filmed scene" as their island adventure progresses. Many feel that the first half of the film could stand alone as a complete work.
This highest quality of camera work, enhanced by a great musical score, continues into the second half of the film, working with the rest of the elements that make up a great film; a talented cast, screenplay, direction, pacing, editing and production values.
The entire cast, under the fine direction of Carroll Ballard, did a great job in both their ensemble work and individual parts. The inspiring screenplay, by Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Rosenberg, and William D. Wittliff, based on the novel by Walter Farley, gives everyone involved in this production great material to work with.
Kelly Reno, does an absolutely marvelous job playing Alec, and performs some incredible stunt work with the horse. He more than carries the movie, as he is in every scene.
Mickey Rooney is at his best as Henry, and gives a heart-felt performance, that earned him a best supporting actor nomination.
Terry Garr is great as Alec's Mom, a woman dealing with not only the loss of her husband, but with her changed son's behavior, his love and devotion for a wild, black stallion, and his attachment to Henry, his sort of father substitute.
Favorite, specific scenes include the emergency situation on the ship, and the boy's rescue by the horse, the island adventure scenes, the horse training montage, and the final horse race, beginning when a rather wild Black is paraded into the arena before the race, on his way to the gates.
Directed by: Carroll Ballard Based on the novel by Walter Farley - Screenplay by Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Rosenberg, and William D. Wittliff. Director of Photography: Caleb Deschanel. Executive Producer: Francis Coppola - Zoetrope Studios.
"The Black Stallion" is highly recommended for everyone.
Based on the novel by Walter Farley - Screenplay by Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Rosenberg, and William D. Wittliff.