Black Stallion, The (1979): Carroll Ballard’s Magical Children Adventure (Boy and Horse)

This beautifully mounted adaptation of Walter Farley’s children story, The Black Stallion, tells the story of Alec (Kelly Reno), a young boy touring the world with his adventurous salesman father (Hoyt Axton).

Our Grade: A (***** out of *****)

The Black Stallion
Black stallion poster.jpg

1979 poster

The tale starts in 1946, five years after the book was published. It tells the story of Alec Ramsey, who is shipwrecked on a deserted island with a wild Arabian stallion whom he befriends. After being rescued, they are set on entering a race challenging two champion horses.

Alone on a nearby island, the boy and the horse develop a relationship; wary of each other at first, they learn to trust each other, and they become close friends. When a rescue party finally finds Alec, he refuses to leave the island without the stallion, and the horse goes with Alec to the small town that is his home. Alec’s mother (Teri Garr) is at a loss about what to do with this remarkable but difficult animal.

Henry Dailey (Mickey Rooney), an elderly horse trainer who lives in the neighborhood, senses a special connection between the boy and his horse; he’s soon convinced that with the right training, and the boy as his jockey, the horse could be a champion on the race course.

First-time director Carroll Ballard captures the mysterious relationship between humans and animals, treating the stallion with the same intelligence and respect as the rest of his cast; he also draws fine, understated performances from Kelly Reno and Mickey Rooney, and Caleb Deschanel’s photography makes this a feast for the eyes.

Commercial Appeal

The Black Stallion is a rare family film that appeals to children as well as adults.  Made on a small budget (less than $3 million), the movie was extremely popular at the box-office, earning close to $40 million.

The sequel, The Black Stallion Returns, in 1983, lacks the magic of the first film, unfolding as a more conventional Sahara-set adventure.

Critical Status:

In 2002, The Black Stallion was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Oscar Nominations: 2

Supporting Actor: Mickey Rooney
Film Editing: Robert Dalva

Oscar Awards: 1

Special Award Achievement for Sound Editing to Alan Splet.

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Supporting Actor Oscar was Melvyn Douglas for “Being There.” Despite four nominations (two lead and two supporting), Rooney had never won a legit, competitive Oscar.

Alan Heim won the Editing Award for Bob Fosse’s musical, “All That Jazz.”

Credits

MPAA Rating: G.
Running time: 120 Minutes.
Directed by Carroll Ballard
Screenplay: Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Rosenberg, William D. Wittliff, based on The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
Directed by Carroll Ballard
Produced by Fred Roos, Francis Ford Coppola Tom Sternberg

Music by Carmine Coppola
Cinematography Caleb Deschanel
Edited by Robert Dalva

Production company: American Zoetrope

Distributed by United Artists

Release date: October 17, 1979

Running time: 118 minutes

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