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Black Stallion, The (1979, Mickey Rooney, Kelly Reno)

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Carroll Ballard’s directorial debut is an adaptation of a popular 1941 children’s novel but such was the quality of both the cast and the crew that the film was both Oscar and BAFTA-nominated and Pauline Kael called it ‘maybe the greatest children’s movie ever made.’

Young Alec Ramsey (Kelly Reno) is on a cruise with his father (Hoyt Axton) and is fascinated by a beautiful black stallion being carried on the ship. When the ship sinks in a violent storm (a superbly realised, graphically realistic sequence), only Alec and the horse survive to be washed up on a desert island. Forming a strong bond, on rescue, he and the horse return to his mother (Teri Garr) but it is their neighbour, retired racehorse trainer Henry Dailey (Mickey Rooney), who spots the special connection between Alec and the stallion and believes they could become champions on the track…

Ballard’s background was as a cinematographer and his direction of cameraman Caleb Deschanel shows this in the stunning visuals, particularly of the shipwreck, on the island (a wordless sequence simply accompanied by Carmine Coppola’s haunting score) and the race at the end. The natural empathy between Reno and the horse (real name Cass-ole [sic]) is beautifully caught and of the hundreds of child/animal films, this is, as Variety said, ‘One of the most exquisite and entirely satisfying [films] to have come along in quite some time.’

production details
USA | 118 minutes | 1979

Director: Carroll Ballard
Writers: Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Rosenberg, William D Wittliff, from Walter Farley’s novel

cast
Kelly Reno as Alec Ramsey
Mickey Rooney as Henry Dailey
Teri Garr as Alec’s Mother
Clarence Muse as Snoe
Hoyt Axton as Alec’s Father
Michael Higgins as Neville
Ed McNamara as Jake
Doghmi Larbi as Arab
Cass-Olé as The Black Stallion

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