Sunday, January 14, 2024

Don't Make a Scene: The Black Stallion

The Story: Sometimes, you just have to go with what you love.

The Black Stallion didn't win any Academy awards (although it got nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Mickey Rooney) and Editing...and it did win a Special Achievement Award for Sound Editing by the amazing Alan Splet—the man had a sound effect for a name!). Other organizations were more kind...or more insightful.

From what I've read, it was a weird production. Director Carroll Ballard set it up like a documentary from a basic outline of the story. The writers were on-set constantly pitching ideas and when things were agreed upon, then the cinematographer would stop shooting "mood" shots and location footage and they'd do the "actor" scenes. There's not a lot of exposition, just casual dialog, and the story is told through imagery, mostly...which I love.

But, what I remember about The Black Stallion is something I'd never seen before in a movie theater.

It was opening night at a Portland "art" theater. There wasn't much fanfare about the movie and little press (even though Francis Ford Coppola was executive producer), and my heart began to sink a little when the theater started to fill up with kids dragging in their parents. The theater filled with children and I began to lower my expectations—the kids would (as per usual) jabber and be talking and running up and down the aisles and there would be a constant parade of bathroom breaks and candy demands.

But, not this time. Not this one. As the movie un-spooled, every child sat rapt, not saying a word, laughing at the funny bits (of course), and not one child moved from their seat until the movie was over, the credits rolled—with extra footage of the bucolic desert island scenes—and the screen went black. The movie had totally captivated them and they had watched, fascinated, while this movie...with little dialog and long on cinematography...danced in front of their eyes.

I hadn't seen something like that before and I haven't seen it since. It was like a magic act for entrancing an audience...and something of a miracle. 

That's how good a movie can be.
The Set-Up: Young Alec Ramsey (Kelly Reno) has survived a steam-ship disaster and being stranded on a desert island, with his only companion being a black Arabian stallion. The two have formed a bond and, after a fortuitous rescue, Alec and the horse he's named "The Black" have returned home to the mid-west United States. But, you can't keep an Arabian stallion cooped up in the backyard! "The Black" escapes and an obsessed Alec chases after him, finally finding him at the barn of former trainer Henry Dailey (Mickey Rooney), who, after some words with the determined Alec realizes that the Mystery Horse is indeed his. And the two get to know each other.
(Laughs) He kicked a garbageman? 
Alec laughs
He's somethin', all right. 
Did you have any breakfast? 
think he likes it out here. 
Tried cows. 
It didn't work.
Five in the morning.
HENRY: They just about drove... 
me nuts. 
Well, look, if you clean...
...this stall up in here real good... 
and, you know, get it fit for him, 
well, I could let you have it.
The Black Stallion is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from M-G-M Home Video and The Criterion Collection.
The posters and artwork are all preliminary studies 

No comments:

Post a Comment