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The plot of Gypsy Colt (1954) may seem a bit familiar. You could call it Lassie Come Home with horses and there's a good reason for the similarities. Gypsy Colt was based on a story by Lassie author Eric Knight. In Gypsy Colt, a young girl must give up her prize colt when a drought strikes. The horse, Gypsy, is sent 500 miles away. The colt soon misses his owners and escapes to make a miraculous journey home.
Gypsy Colt was based on a screenplay by Martin Berkeley and directed by Andrew Marton. Writer Berkeley turned out to be a rather controversial figure in movie history. He got his start, inauspiciously enough, in 1943 writing the screenplay for the MGM programmer Harrigan's Kid. He also co-wrote several Dr. Gillespie pictures for MGM (including Dr. Gillespie's Criminal Case  and Three Men in White ). Berkeley penned scripts for other studios as well, receiving screen credit on pictures like: The Notorious Lone Wolf (1946), an entry in Columbia's Lone Wolf detective series, Sand (1949), a Fox Western, and Meet Me at the Fair (1953), directed by Douglas Sirk, for Universal. However, Berkeley's Hollywood reputation is not due to his screenwriting abilities. Instead, Berkeley is best known for naming names before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1950s. In fact, Berkeley is generally considered to have damaged more careers than any other witness, by "outing" 155 of his peers as Communists.
Berkeley's admissions before the Committee saved his own career but it did little to win him friends in Hollywood. Gypsy Colt's director Andrew Marton remembered being in the MGM commissary with Berkeley and "feel[ing] about sixteen different daggers in [his] back." "I lost many friends because the script was written by Martin Berkeley," Marton later said. He also admitted to having known of Berkeley's politics when he signed on to make Gypsy Colt. "I thought the situation was a little storm in a teacup," Marton confessed.
Thankfully Marton had an easier time with his cast, both human and equine. Child actor Donna Corcoran, who had a five-year career at MGM in the '50s, starred as Meg. Among Corcoran's other notable films were Angels in the Outfield (1951) and Dangerous When Wet (1953). In the role of Meg's father was character actor Ward Bond. Though Bond was, like Berkeley, an anti-red activist and member of the conservative Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, his impressive body of work overshadowed his political leanings. And Frances Dee, who starred in Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie (1943), played Meg's mother in Gypsy Colt. As for Gypsy the horse, his real name was Fury. He would also appear in Giant (1956) and star in his own television series in the 1950's entitled Fury. For his performance in Gypsy Colt, he would be honored with a PATSY award, for top animal star of the year.
Gypsy Colt wasn't Marton's first experience with an animal movie; he had previously directed Gallant Bess (1946), another horse story. Interestingly enough, Marton would go on to establish himself more as a second unit director, rather than as a solo director. He directed second unit production on films like A Farewell to Arms (1957), Cleopatra (1963), The Longest Day (1962) and Catch 22 (1970) -- not to mention Ben-Hur (1959), for which Marton would receive a special Oscar® for directing the chariot race sequence which involved countless horses.
As for Gypsy Colt, Marton summed it up this way -- "we made a children's picture, which wasn't a bad one either. It was a completely nonpolitical film."
Producer: Sidney Franklin, William Grady, Jr.
Director: Andrew Marton
Screenplay: Eric Knight (story), Martin Berkeley
Cinematography: Harold Lipstein
Film Editing: Conrad A. Nervig
Art Direction: Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Rudolph G. Kopp
Cast: Donna Corcoran (Meg MacWade), Ward Bond (Frank MacWade), Frances Dee (Em MacWade), Larry Keating (Wade Y. Gerald), Lee Van Cleef (Hank), Nacho Galindo (Pancho).
by Stephanie Thames