Sep 16, 2008

The Red Stallion: This is what happens when I subscribe to Encore.

The Red Stallion (1947)

This movie has been sitting in my DVR for what seems like weeks, and last night I got around to watching it because something had to cleanse me of the Harlequin horror in my last entry. What better to do that than a completely ridiculous movie shot in 1947, when America was collectively regressing back into childhood after having participated in two world wars? I mean, this is the era where (How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window reached number #1 in America and the UK, indicating to me that everyone was either on something very strong or they were all suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Anyway, The Red Stallion has the misfortune of being produced after My Friend Flicka (1943) and its sequel, Thunderhead (1945), which basically ate up the Special Horses and their Special Humans Living in Wyoming market in the 1940s. This left little room for The Red Stallion, which is okay because The Red Stallion knows its bad and does nothing to rise to the standards My Friend Flicka created. In fact, it probably knocked the standards down to a level one can easily walk over. It's filmed in Cinecolor, which became obsolete in 1955, which is just fine because the color is all over the place. You really can't tell if all the walls in Wyoming are actually supposed to look that salmon color, or if the walls were originally white. You'd never know.

So the deal is this: Joel has a red stallion. He found this horse when it was a foal (which everyone makes a huge deal out of), because its dam was in a wreck and got loose and gave birth somewhere in the very fake Wyoming wilderness. I assume this is Wyoming, by the way. It could be, like, Nevada or something. Anyway, mare gets loose, has the baby, and then a black bear comes along and kills the mother. Then Joel comes along and scares off the bear and finds the foal and names him Red because the foal is red. Gosh! What a fantastically fitting name. So Joel comes home with the foal and hand raises it and then breaks it (this is a hilarious sequence...it's almost as if Joel was tearing a page out of Cindy's book of amazing thoroughbred training techniques, minus the infants). So, you see, Red is so very special to Joel and this is extremely important to point out because Joel's grandmother has somehow gotten herself into $11,000 of debt (that's over $100,000 in terms of today's dollars). Well, actually, apparently some station thing shut down and she has no one to sell her horses to...these horses that you never see, actually. And because they live in the middle of nowhere, there is no other obvious organization that might want her horses. So these men drive up (I think they totally ran over a chicken, but no one really stops to notice this) and tell grandmother all about this problem they're having with her financial liability, and she moans and offers everyone "lemonade" (it looks like whiskey, but what do I know?) and they give her 30 days to come up with the money. Joel overhears all of this, and Ho-Na (the American Indian farm hand) tells Joel that he can save the farm because Red is a thoroughbred and he can race and Moresby Farm would surely want Red.

Joel has a minor crisis about this, but realizes that this is the best thing he can do. So he takes Red to Moresby Farm and meets up with Ryan...some guy who does something at Moresby Farm, and Ryan takes him to meet Ellen, the trainer. I am a little stunned by this development, seeing has how horse racing has been penis-oriented since the beginning of time, but whatever. Ellen has a new horse she's training, Black Morn or something like that, and she's BUSY training this one horse. TOO BUSY to look at Red, who has won a local fair race or something, which means he's awesome, but she wouldn't know because she is BUSY watching this one horse run around in a circle. Ryan tells her she's not sufficiently human, and Joel takes Red home.

After this, Ryan gets Ellen to go on a ride with him out into the fake Wyoming wilderness and they come across Ho-Na and Joel, who race Red for her. Ellen is not pleased with the set up she walked into, but she times Red anyway and his time for the quarter is 23 and something and she's all yay, let's show my boss! Only when they show her boss, it becomes blatantly obvious that Red has had no formal training in the starting gate and does not understand this racing in a circle thing. So he loses the little match race they set up and Joel is further depressed. You know what he's thinking right now? He's thinking gee wilickers. You know he is.

But this doesn't stop Joel! He'll make Red into a racehorse, which involves having Ho-Na fashion a starting gate out of wood (yeah, that's also hilarious) and he lounges Red every day and that, I guess, is supposed to accomplish something. However, the evil people that want to sell grandmother's ranch are back and they want an inventory of everything, so Joel takes Red into the woods and ties him to a tree and intends to run away, but Ho-Na finds him and gives him some talk that shames him into coming back home. Only they leave Red tied to the tree, despite this bear wandering around. This will be important later.

Ho-Na comes up with the idea of exercising Red at the Moresby training track at night, so they start doing that, freaking everyone out at Moresby Farm. Ellen and Ryan eventually have some forethought and decide to watch out for Joel and Ho-Na, so in the middle of the "work" Joel spots them and aborts in hilarious fashion. This involves him jumping Red over all the track rails and galloping off while Ryan's over there sighing, "If I had a son, I'd want him to be just like Joel." Joel sticks Red back in the woods and leaves his dog there with him. They go back home. Meanwhile, the bear makes its grand appearance, which results in the most amazing human in a bear suit vs. pissed off stallion fight I have ever seen. At one point the human in a bear suit jumps on the horse's back and the horse twirls around several times and falls due to a trip wire that you can so obviously see it's just painful.

While this is happening, Ryan and Ellen visit grandmother's ranch and tells her all about Red being amazing and so Joel and Ryan go out to get Red and happen upon this insane bear/horse smack down going on in the forest. Like, the bear is running one way and the horse is following the bear and then they start pawing and clawing at each other and then they run some more...really, my description does not do the crazy of this scene any justice. Eventually Red beats the bear to death, but he's all cut up. Joel takes the time to run down there and bemoan why his horse had to fight the bear (it's probably because Joel left his horse in the woods without protection, but hey, who's pointing fingers?). They take the horse back to the ranch and hide him in a shack while he recovers, but the evil men who want to sell the farm find him anyway some weeks later and force them to put Red in the auction.

Only Joel rides Red off to Moresby Farm in the middle of the auction and they race around the track against Black Morn and some other horse and Red wins. Mr. Moresby decides to buy the horse, but grandmother steps in and negotiates a partnership, so Joel gets to be co-owner. Everyone is delighted. Ellen and Ryan walk off together, grandmother and Mr. Moresby walk off together, Joel hugs Red, and Joel's dog, upset that he has no life partner to hug at the moment, runs off to the Moresby stables and meets this other dog and a pile of puppies. Everyone has a happy ending and cue credits.

  • Joel's dog is a major character to the point where it's almost a working farm hand at grandmother's ranch. He cools off Red by leading the horse around by its reins, and he helps train the horse how to stand in the starting gate (actually, he just spooks the horse, but this was expected) and "teaches" Red how to run near the inside rail of the training oval. He even finds Joel's pajamas by command. He is extremely annoying.
  • The focus is almost always off in this movie. At one point it was so off, the camera was focusing on the chair someone was sitting in. So all I could do was stare in awe as the person speaking was all blurry and the chair was in perfect, shiny focus.
  • Lip syncing. It is horrible. I think someone was talking with a pipe in his mouth, but his lips weren't moving. It was transfixing.
  • The obviously fake backgrounds. I love it when they cut from one scene that is clearly shot outside to a scene shot in front of a giant roll-down picture of trees or, my personal favorite, a stream.
  • Racism! Jackson, the black exercise rider, comes along to grandmother's ranch, but stays in the car. Probably because he's black. Then Ho-Na is told to bring "lemonade" to Jackson, and Jackson freaks out and starts questioning Ho-Na about his bows and arrows and totally looks panicked. *facepalm*
  • During the auction, I think grandmother is sitting on the roof of her house. I can't be sure, but I think this is the case. She is one spry old lady.
So that's The Red Stallion. Don't watch it. Watch My Friend Flicka instead.

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