Story of Seabiscuit, The (1941): Butler’s Version of Race Horse, Starring Shirley Temple

David Butler’s Technicolor film is a disappointingly fictionalized account of the career of the 1930s racehorse Seabiscuit. Also serving as a star vehicle for the declining Shirley Temple, The movie contains a secondary subplot about the romance between the niece of a horse trainer (Barry Fitzgerald) and a jockey (Lon McCallister).

The screenplay, written by John Taintor Foote, uses the actual racehorse names, but changed the names of the individuals involved.

Though shot in Technicolor, the film incorporates actual black-and-white footage of Seabiscuit in races, including the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap and the 1938 match race against rival War Admiral, considered by many to be the greatest horse race of all time.

In 1940 Butler took technicolor footage of Seabiscuit for a film called Blood Will Tell for RKO. He was friends with the horse’s owner, Charles Howard, who stated that he would love to see a film made out of Seabiscuit.  Warner paid RKO more than $25,000 for the color footage of Seabiscuit   Part of the film is in black and white because Butler could only get black and white news footage of that race.

Despite potential for thrilling action, the race story is not exciting, and the central romance dull.

The film used two of the children of Seabiscuit (1933–1947).

Shirley Temple as Margaret O’Hara
Barry Fitzgerald as trainer Sean O’Hara
co-starring Lon McCallister as jockey Ted Knowles
with Rosemary DeCamp as Mrs. Charles S. Howard
Donald MacBride as George Carson
Pierre Watkin as Charles S. Howard
William Forrest as Thomas Milford