skip navigation
The Black Stallion

The Black Stallion(1979)

TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here

Remind Me

TCMDb Archive MaterialsView all archives (0)

DVDs from TCM Shop

The Black Stallion A boy and a horse forge a... MORE > $19.47 Regularly $29.95 Buy Now blu-ray


powered by AFI

The Black Stallion (1979)


Alec Ramsey (Kelly Reno), an 11-year-old American boy of the 1940s, is traveling with his father (Hoyt Axton) on the steamer Drake off the coast of North Africa and becomes fascinated by another passenger - a fiery black stallion owned by an unfriendly Arab (Dogmi Larbi). When the ship sinks in a storm, Alec and the horse are the only survivors. They are swept into the sea and onto an uninhabited island, where the boy doggedly attempts to befriend and tame "the Black." He eventually succeeds, and a deep bond is formed between the two as they share an idyllic and exultant life on the island. After they are rescued, Alec assumes ownership of the horse and takes him home to suburban Flushing, N.Y., where the boy lives with his mother (Teri Garr). He befriends a retired jockey named Henry Dailey (Mickey Rooney), and the two of them train the Black to compete in a championship race.

Director: Carroll Ballard
Producers: Francis Ford Coppola, Fred Roos, Tom Sternberg
Screenplay: Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Rosenberg, William D. Wittliff, from the novel by Walter Farley
Editing: Robert Dalva
Art Directors: Aurelio Crugnola, Earl Preston
Music: Carmine Coppola
Cast: Kelly Reno (Alec Ramsey), Mickey Rooney (Henry Dailey), Teri Garr (Alec's mother), Clarence Muse (Snoe), Hoyt Axton (Alec's father), Michael Higgins (Neville), Ed McNamara (Jake), Dogmi Larbi (Arab)


The horse movie, a long-lived and much-loved movie genre, probably has no more exquisite or engrossing a representative than The Black Stallion. Other leading examples of the voluminous genre also include My Friend Flicka (1943), National Velvet (1944), Thunderhead: Son of Flicka (1945), Seabiscuit (2003), Secretariat (2010) and several versions of Black Beauty - but none of these equines has quite the impact and appeal of "the Black," described by The New York Times as "the most famous fictional horse of the century." One viewer said that in watching the film he felt he "was discovering the emotional sources of mystery and enchantment" - and, indeed, The Black Stallion has a transporting power that can engage a receptive imagination in the way that only the best movies can. With its exceptional cinematography by Caleb Deschanel and the splendidly played interactions between horse and boy, this one of the most beautiful films of all time and a moving celebration of the bonds that can be shared by animals and humans.

By Roger Fristoe

back to top
The Black Stallion (1979)

The Black Stallion in its various forms has had a major impact on international culture and the world of children's literature and film. The first novel of the Walter Farley series won the 1944 Young Reader's Choice Award and became a favorite of young horse lovers everywhere. In 1949, the first Black Stallion Club was founded, in Kentucky. The 21 Black Stallion and Island Stallion stories are still in print and selling steadily. During Farley's lifetime, readers sent him thousand of letters (and later emails) every year. His books have been published abroad in more than 20 countries including Austria, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, England, Israel, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaya, Norway, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sweden and Switzerland, as well as the U.S. and Canada. Farley died in October 1989, shortly before the publication of the 21st book in the Stallion series, which is continued by his son Steve. Farley's local library in Venice, Florida, maintains a permanent exhibit of Black Stallion memorabilia.

The original Black Stallion film also has a devoted worldwide following. It was followed by a sequel, The Black Stallion Returns (1983), also starring Reno, and a TV series called Adventures of the Black Stallion (1990-1993), starring Mickey Rooney and Richard Ian Cox. In 2003 a prequel, The Young Black Stallion, was released in the IMAX format. The tone and style of the original movie has had an influence on many subsequent children's films with a fanciful or mystical quality. In preparing to direct Where the Wild Things Are (2009), on the recommendation of author Maurice Sendak, director Spike Jonze studied The Black Stallion. Jonze said of director Carroll Ballard: "He's a rare filmmaker with such a delicate touch. He's like Terrence Malick in a way, very patient and confident." In watching Ballard's movie, Jonze said he was "astounded by the beauty of the relationship" between boy and horse. "The first 45 minutes, with almost no dialogue, is always what gets me. It captures the point of view of a boy observing the world."

By Roger Fristoe

back to top
The Black Stallion (1979)

In a scene where Alec looks at memorabilia in the office of Mickey Rooney's ex-jockey character, one of the photos appears to be a young Rooney atop the horse in National Velvet (1944).

The black model horse seen in Alec's bedroom is a Breyer Animal Creations Foundation Stallion #64, produced for 11 years starting in 1977 and retired in 1987.

The scene with Alec and the cobra took two days to film, because the cobra was reluctant to spread its hood. During filming, Kelly Reno was separated from the snake by a pane of glass.

After his appearance in the two Black Stallion movies, Cass Ole returned to his life as a show-horse and stud. In his lifetime he sired 123 offspring. Among his many public appearances was one at President Reagan's inaugural parade in 1980. Cass Ole died in 1993.

Six years after Cass Ole's death, The Arabian Horse World magazine named him one of the 10 most important Arabians in America of the 20th century, noting that he "showed millions of Americans, through his movie The Black Stallion, the beauty, gentleness and tractability of the breed."

For Cass Ole doubles Junior and Star, The Black Stallion was the beginning of careers as stunt horses in many other films.

Kelly Reno would appear in only two more films; shortly after his high school graduation in 1984, his pickup truck was hit by an 18-wheeler and he suffered severe injuries that required a long recuperation period. Now in his 40s and himself a semi-truck driver, he lives in Colorado with his third wife.

Quotes from The Black Stallion

"Dad... You know what I saw? It's the most fantastic thing. Come look!" - Alec

"He had fire in his eyes, smoke coming out of his nose!" -- Alec's father

"You're not supposed to keep secrets from your mother." -- Alec's mother

" 'Cause this black, he can outbreak ya, ya know. He can outbreak ya. Ya'd just be sittin in mid air." - Henry

"He saved my life. I can't leave him." - Alec

"I gotta ride!" - Alec

Compiled by Roger Fristoe

back to top
The Black Stallion (1979)

The basis for the film version of The Black Stallion was a novel of the same title by American author Walter Farley, who grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., and New York City. He began work on the book, his first, while still a student at Brooklyn's Erasmus Hall High School and Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania, and finished it as an undergraduate at Columbia University. Farley was 26 when the book was published by Random House in 1941 and was enthusiastically received by youngsters everywhere who made clear their desire to read about more adventures of the young hero, Alec Ramsey, and "the Black," the magnificent Arabian stallion he comes to own after the two are shipwrecked on a desert island.

Farley's writing career, however, was interrupted by World War II and his service in the U.S. Army for five years. Upon his return he wrote two sequels, The Black Stallion Returns (1947) and Son of the Black Stallion (1949). He then created a new fictional boy/horse duo, Steven Duncan and Flame, in The Island Stallion. Farley continued to write novels about the two stallions (who encounter each other in three of the books), the Black's offspring and other horses. By the time of the movie's release in 1979, Farley had published 19 novels in his equine series including the fictionalized biography Man o' War (1962), about the great American race horse. Throughout the 1940s and '50s Farley's novels consistently placed near the top of The New York Times' annual list of best-selling children's books.

Despite the near-legendary status of Farley's book, The Black Stallion had never been adapted for the screen until producer/director Francis Ford Coppola purchased the rights as part of a plan to produce a series of classic children's movies. (The series did not entirely materialize, although a second installment, The Secret Garden, was released in 1993.) Among the screenwriters was Melissa Mathison, who would later marry Harrison Ford and win an Oscar® nomination for E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Coppola chose Carroll Ballard, his former UCLA classmate, to direct The Black Stallion. Ballard had never before directed a feature, although his documentary Harvest (1967) was nominated for an Oscar®. Author Farley agreed to be a consultant on horse matters for the film.

Kelly Reno, the 13-year-old son of Colorado cattle ranchers, was cast as Alec despite the fact that he had never acted before and wasn't a particular fan of movies or television. In The New York Times of September 30, 1979, he did acknowledge that he had seen Star Wars twice. "As for TV, I don't watch it much, except for Soap," he added. But Reno had persuaded his parents to drive him to Denver for an audition for boys who could ride. Producer Tom Sternberg later said that "We'd considered all sorts of professional child actors. Then we began to search for boys who may not have acted, but who might be right for the role. We eventually interviewed several hundred around the country and tested 100." Reno went to Los Angeles for a screen test, and his equestrian skills and natural manner, along with his quizzical, freckle-faced charm, got him the role.

In a nod to another great child-and-horse film, 1944's National Velvet, Mickey Rooney was cast Henry Dailey, the horse trainer and former jockey. He had also played a jockey in Down the Stretch (1936), Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937) and a memorable episode of TV's Twilight Zone series, The Last Night of a Jockey. In his memoir, Life Is Too Short, Rooney recalled receiving a call from Coppola offering him the role of "a former jockey called out of retirement by a little boy with a beautiful black Arabian horse and a dream about winning a race." Rooney's sarcastic response when asked if he thought he could play the role: "Gee, I don't know. I never played a jockey before."

Teri Garr, enjoying a career high after roles in Young Frankenstein (1974) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), was cast as Alec's mom, with singer/actor Hoyt Axton (1938-1999) in the small but key role of Alec's dad. In what would be his last role, pioneer actor/filmmaker Clarence Muse (1889-1979) played Snoe, an elderly horse owner who befriends Alec once the boy and the Black are back in New York.

In the crucial casting of the title role, Ballard looked at horses in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt - countries on the path of the fictional steamer in Farley's story as it left Bombay, picked up the Black in Arabia and sank off the coast of Portugal. Ballard also traveled to England and Spain but failed to find a suitable candidate in any of these locations. Back in the U.S. he was impressed with an Egyptian-born Arabian racehorse named El Mokhtar, but his owners declined all offers. (Later the studio bought out the syndicate of owners, and El Mokhtar was used for some scenes in the 1983 sequel, The Black Stallion Returns.) At the Jack Tone Ranch in California, Ballard spotted another Arabian stallion, Fae Jur, and liked his spirit and "touch of madness" but was concerned that the horse was too small.

Meanwhile author Farley had been doing some scouting of his own and, in San Antonio, located a gorgeous Texas-bred Arabian named Cass Ole that surpassed all his competition in matching the fictional horse's beauty and character. He was a true champion, having won more than 600 ribbons in local, national and regional competitions. For two years (1975-76) he had won American Horse Show Association's Horse of the Year award. With his noble head, expressive eyes, quick intelligence and responsive temperament, Cass Ole quickly won the role of the Black.

Cast as the old white horse named Napoleon, who becomes the Black's friend in the later part of the film, was Junior, who had previously appeared as Trooper, the horse of Neidermeyer (Mark Metcalf) in National Lampoon's Animal House (1978). Before filming began, the horses used in the film, including stunt doubles, were trained at a California ranch for several weeks by noted trainers Corky, Glenn and J.R. Randall. Corky Randall had trained Trigger for Roy Rogers, Silver for the Lone Ranger films, and all the horses in the chariot-race scene in 1959's Ben-Hur. Cass Ole had special sessions with young Reno so boy and horse could establish a believable rapport.

After extensive scouting of locations, Sardinia was chosen for the island sequences because of its remote and spectacular scenery; and Toronto, Canada, was picked to represent the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. in the 1940s. Separate art directors and production managers were assigned to the two locations, one with an Italian crew and the other with a Canadian one. To represent the farm of Mickey Rooney's character, two bucolic locations were found near Toronto; one of them featured a 100-year-old abandoned barn that was refurbished by art director Earl Preston. Two racing tracks were required; the one where the Black trains secretly at night was represented by Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, and Fort Erie Racetrack, on the Ontario border near Buffalo, N.Y., was used for the match race.

By Roger Fristoe

back to top
The Black Stallion (1979)

Filming of The Black Stallion began in Toronto on July 4, 1977. The summer of 1977 in Canada was one of the wettest and hottest on record, and delays were caused by the torrents of rain that flooded the Woodbine Racetrack, creating a two-foot-deep layer of mud. At the end of August the film crew headed for the sunny Mediterranean, where they faced a new set of problems.

The first location in Sardinia was near the town of Marina di Arbus, where the horses were transported by a van containing portable stalls that were set up near the filming site, and the crew had to hand-carry the cameras and other equipment over the sand dunes. That situation was repeated at various other locations all over Sardinia, with exposure to sun, sand, sea and dysentery causing considerable discomfort for the crew. Other locations there included Capo Caccia, Capo Camino, Costa Paradiso, Cala Ganone and San Teodoro, which sported a mile-long stretch of fine white sand that was perfect for the boy's first ride on the stallion. Temperatures in Sardinia could become quite cold, and Reno shivered through scenes where he wore little clothing and was often in the water.

A sequence that made everyone especially apprehensive in its filming was the one where the Black stomps and kills a cobra that is threatening Alec. A group of snakes was flown in from Milan with a handler, Carlo Guidi, who assured the filmmakers that his cobras had been milked of their deadly venom. Just in case, a special serum was kept on hand but, thankfully, did not have to be administered.

The last major segment to be filmed was the sinking of the ship at Rome's Cinecitta Studios, which features a huge outdoor water tank. Two portions of the ship, an actual-size deck and stern, were designed by art director Aurelio Crugnola and assembled in the tank, a process that took three months. These were the largest sets ever built in the tank. The stern was set on a platform in the tank, with cables attached to pull it into the water as it sinks. Filming of the shipwreck sequence lasted three weeks.

The movie, at a cost of $4.5 million, took two years to complete, with shooting also done at various locations in the U.S. Kelly Reno, whose only trips outside Colorado had been to North Dakota and California, was chaperoned by his parents while visiting the widespread locations. Despite their presence, he became homesick and later noted that, "In Rome, I'd have paid $10,000 for a McDonald's hamburger. You never know how much you want that if after a week all you get is spaghetti. And I had me a little wine, but after a week, I started drinking cokes again."

Early in the shooting, the untrained Reno spoiled some takes by looking at the camera. He recalled Ballard telling him, "'This is the way it it.' If I didn't get it done, we'd just have to do it all over again. Lines weren't a problem. I had a lot of them, but they weren't in whole, long scenes. And I could put it in other words if the meaning was the same - that was all right with Carroll." Reno did most of his own stunts, riding bareback and with a racing saddle, falling from a galloping horse and swimming with it. A stunt double stepped in only for racing scenes, when his character was to ride a thoroughbred running at top speed: "I was too small to hold him back."

Reno recalled that his most difficult scene was the shipwreck, which happens during a raging storm and was shot at night. "They had wind and rain and fire and smoke," he said. "I spent a lot of time in the tank, not being able to touch bottom, while they made these waves that came very far over my head." As the boy and horse thrashed in the foreground, the realistic model ship was burnt and sunk headfirst in the tank. For such scenes, great demands were made of the horse playing the Black. The owners of Cass Ole had stipulated that he was not to be used in swimming, fighting or racing sequences, so other horses doubled for him in these and other challenging situations.

The main double was Fae Jur, the spirited horse from California that Ballard had once considered for the role of the Black. He is the horse in the memorable scene where Alec tempts the stallion with seaweed on the beach. Fae Jur's naturally independent nature made his approaches and retreats very believable. He loved fake-fighting and also was used in the sequences where the Black stamps on a cobra and where the high-strung stallion strikes out at another horse just before the big race.

Junior and Star, two stunt horses owned by the Randall family, stepped in for Cass Ole when scenes required strenuous fighting, running, jumping and swimming. Star enacted the scene where the Black gets tangled in rope and caught between two rocks. He was so unconcerned about being tied up and forced to sit that Corky Randall had to toss pebbles at him to get him to simulate any kind of agitation.

None of the equine doubles liked being in the water, so horses were brought in from the lagoons of Camargue in France for the underwater shots of the Black swimming in the sea. Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel recalled in an interview that the swimming horses "had pot bellies and incredibly ugly faces." But when they "came into the water and started swimming, they looked unbelievably graceful. They were the ugliest animals you've ever seen, but underwater...they were like Nijinsky." The crew nicknamed these horses Pete and Repete because of the numerous takes required to get the appropriate underwater footage.

There is a scene in the water where the Black is swimming towards Alec and suddenly tips over in the waves, with his head underwater and his hooves pawing in the air. This was actually an accident captured on film, as too much force was applied to the guide bars attached to control the stunt horse's movements. There was much alarm on the set as he sank below the surface, and great relief when he managed to right himself again and raise his head above the water. The crew of The Black Stallion was especially proud of the fact that, despite all the difficult stunts throughout filming, no horse was injured in any way.

Despite all the doubling, Cass Ole remained the star of the film and appears in about 80 per cent of the horse footage. He learned to express anger by putting his ears back, rearing on his hind legs and stomping the ground - and could also turn soft and loving on cue, nodding his head and giving pretend kisses to Reno. Even his facial expressions changed. "It was amazing," said Corky Randall. "I never met a horse before who wanted to be an actor." Only once did the stallion lose patience - during the bareback ride on the beach when Alec holds up his hands in triumph. Cass Ole suddenly bolted, giving Reno a much wilder ride than he expected. The crew was terrified for the boy, but he was a capable rider who lowered his hands to grab the horse's mane and hang on for dear life.

Cass Ole was naturally black, although he had white markings on his pasterns and a white star on his forehead that had to be dyed before filming. During some scenes in the water the dye fades and one can glimpse suggestions of the white markings. Some of the horse doubles - including the swimming horses, which were white - had their entire bodies dyed black. Like many American horses Cass Ole had his mane trimmed into a "bridle path" that allows a bridle or halter to lie flat against the neck and head. Although he had the long mane typical of his breed, extensions were stitched into the hair of Cass Ole's mane to hide the bridle path and create the luxurious, flowing mane that is seen on the screen.

Ballard credited Deschanel for many of the movie's signature touches, especially during the first half of the film, when dialogue is minimal and the images are everything. "Caleb has a tremendous eye, and he can invent things right on the spot," Ballard said. "Really, some of the neatest shots in the movie are things I didn't even know he was shooting." Neither director nor cinematographer had ever done any underwater work, and Deschanel improvised his equipment for those scenes. Ballard came to depend upon his associate to see him through tough times during filming. He recalled a particularly trying day when he was convinced the project "was a catastrophe. Caleb and I were walking together, trying to get back to the car, and we came across this river that just seemed to appear out of nowhere. We had to get across the river to get where we were going and Caleb said, 'Come on, get on my back and I'll carry you across.' I'll never forget it. He was kind of like that through the whole film."

Concert composer William Russo was initially given the assignment of scoring The Black Stallion, but when he and Ballard couldn't agree on what the music should be like, producer Francis Ford Coppola stepped in and hired his father, Carmine Coppola, who had scored his son's Godfather movies. Carmine created an unobtrusive yet evocative score that was supplemented with music by Shirley Walker.

Author Farley had reservations about his signature story being filmed and feared that the novel might not translate successfully to a new medium. Happily, the movie exceeded his expectations in remaining true to the original and finding its own artistic identity. "They did a beautiful job," he conceded. (A sequel, The Black Stallion Returns, filmed in Italy in 1983, failed to live up to the author's standards. A new musical score by Georges Delerue is considered by some to be that film's most impressive element.)

Once completed, The Black Stallion was shelved for two years by United Artists. Ballard recalled the studio "suits" complaining, "What is this, some kind of an art film for kids?" It took the full clout of Francis Ford Coppola to see that the film finally reached theaters. Many critics were ecstatic; Roger Ebert named the film the best of the year, and Pauline Kael described it as "proof that even children who have grown up with television and may never have been exposed to a good movie can respond to the real thing when they see it." The movie quickly became a box-office hit and won two Oscar® nominations including one for Mickey Rooney, whose career resurgence at the time also included a Broadway triumph in Sugar Babies. New York magazine described him as "a figure out of a semi-mystical past," and Rooney himself declared that "My cup runneth over."

Among the innovations of sound editor Alan Splet, who won a special Oscar® for his work, was attaching microphones to the underside of the horse during the racing scenes to catch his actual hoof-beats and breathing. There was outrage in some quarters when Caleb Deschanel's ravishing cinematography failed to even be nominated for an Academy Award. Deschanel, then 34, commented, "I'm disappointed. The fact that so many people told me I was sure to get the nomination has made it harder to take. On the other hand, who am I? I'm just a young punk making his name in this business..."

By Roger Fristoe

back to top
teaser The Black Stallion (1979)

One of the most critically acclaimed films from 1979, The Black Stallion, was based on the classic children's tale written by Walter Farley in 1941. Despite the book's popularity and that of its sixteen sequels, it was never adapted for the screen until Francis Ford Coppola purchased the rights. He planned to release the film as the first film in a series of classical children's films. The second film in the series, The Secret Garden, was released in 1993. Coppola called on his former UCLA classmate, Carroll Ballard to direct the first installment, making The Black Stallion Ballard's feature film debut. His first movie was a documentary entitled Harvest (1967) which was nominated for an Academy Award ®.

The Black Stallion is an exotic and often magical tale of a young boy and his horse. When the film opens, the boy and his father are traveling by ship when a disaster occurs. A fire breaks out and the boy finds himself adrift in the rough seas with an Arabian horse he saw on board. Both the boy and the stallion are washed ashore a deserted island where they overcome an initial mistrust to form a strong bond. Soon the two are rescued and return to the U.S. But the horse runs away and the boy eventually traces the animal to a farm owned by an ex-jockey. In time, the boy learns from the former pro how to be a first rate rider and trains the stallion for a championship race.

In his film debut, Kelly Reno plays the young, aspiring jockey; he had never acted before in any medium, and he was not even a fan of film or television. "Oh, if there's a good movie, the family'll take a bag of popcorn and go." When asked what he considered a "good movie," he responded, "I guess Star Wars (1977) -- I've seen it twice. As for TV, I don't watch it much, except for Soap," he explained in the September 30, 1979 issue of The New York Times. But when Reno heard from a friend that a movie company was coming to Colorado to look for boys who could ride horses, he persuaded his parents to drive him to Denver for an audition. According to producer Tom Sternberg, "We'd considered all sorts of professional child actors. Then we began to search for boys who may not have acted, but who might be right for the role. We eventually interviewed several hundred from around the country and tested 100." And the saddle-trained Reno was one of the lucky ones who earned a screen test in L.A..

The $4.5 million film took two years to make and involved five months of shooting in Canada, Rome, and Sardinia. For Reno, whose only trips outside Colorado were to North Dakota and L.A. for the screen test, the film became quite an adventure. His parents chaperoned him while on location, but he still admitted he got homesick. "In Rome, I'd have paid $10,000 for a McDonald's hamburger - you never know how much you want that if after a week all you get is spaghetti. And I had me a little wine, but after a week, I started drinking cokes again."

During the first week of shooting, Reno enjoyed the work, but he kept glancing at the camera in the middle of scenes. He recalled that the director, Carroll Ballard, "would tell me, 'This is the way it it.' If I didn't get it done, we'd just have to do it all over again. Lines weren't a problem. I had a lot of them, but they weren't in the whole, long scenes. And I could put in other words if the meaning was the same - that was all right with Carroll." Reno also did all his own stunt work. He had to ride bareback and on a racing saddle, take falls from a galloping horse, and swim. The only time a stunt double was used was for racetrack sequences, which required his character to race a thoroughbred at top speed. "I was too small to hold him back," says Reno.

The most demanding scene Reno recalled was the shipwreck sequence during a turbulent storm. For this scene, Ballard used the huge water tank at Cinecitta Studios in Rome. "It was all done at night," says Reno. "And they had wind and rain and fire and smoke. I spent a lot of time in the tank, not being able to touch the bottom, while they made these waves that came far over my head." Ballard also used a completely realistic model ship to burn and sink headfirst while the boy and the horse struggled in the foreground.

With scenes such as the shipwreck, the horse in this film, Cass-Ole, had to perform as few other horses ever have. Cass-Ole's trainer was one of Hollywood's greatest animal trainers, Corky Randall. He trained "Trigger" for Roy Rogers, "Silver" for the Lone Ranger, and all the horses in the chariot-race scene in Ben-Hur (1959).

Mickey Rooney plays the horse trainer in the film, a nostalgic reminder to audiences of his role as a former jockey in National Velvet (1944). Rooney also played a jockey in both Down the Stretch (1936) and Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937). He went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the film. Rooney recalls how he first heard about the film, "Francis Ford Coppola got on the horn to tell me he'd purchased the rights to a children's classic called The Black Stallion. He had a part in it for me, a former jockey called out of retirement by a little boy with a beautiful black Arabian horse and a dream about winning a race. Did I think I could play a former jockey? 'Gee,' I said, 'I don't know. I never played a jockey before.'

The Black Stallion became a hit at the box-office and received great critical praise. In addition to Rooney's nomination, the film also received an Academy nomination for Best Editing and the Oscar for Best Film Editing. A sequel, The Black Stallion Returns, was later released in 1983.

Producer: Francis Ford Coppola, Fred Roos, Tom Sternberg
Director: Carroll Ballard
Screenplay: Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Rosenberg, William D. Wittliff, Walter Farley (novel)
Cinematography: Caleb Deschanel
Film Editing: Robert Dalva
Art Direction: Aurelio Crugnola, Earl G. Preston
Music: Carmine Coppola
Cast: Kelly Reno (Alec Ramsey), Mickey Rooney (Henry Dailey), Teri Garr (Alec's Mother), Clarence Muse (Snoe), Hoyt Axton (Alec's Father), Michael Higgins (Neville).
C-118m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Emily L. Rice

back to top
The Black Stallion (1979)

"One of the rare movies that achieves a magical atmosphere. Seeing it is like being carried on a magic carpet; you don't want to come down. (It may be the greatest children's movie ever made.) In this first feature by Carroll Ballard... the visual imagination that he brings to the natural landscape is so intense that his imagery makes you feel like a pagan - as if you were touching when you're only looking. His great scenes have a sensuous trancelike quality. The movie is set in 1949, but it seems outside time. And this distilled atmosphere makes it possible for a simple boy-and-animal story to be transformed into something mythological." - Pauline Kael, The New Yorker

"Generations from now, when people talk about horse movies, they won't be talking about National Velvet or My Friend Flicka [1943], they'll be talking about the majestic beauty of Carroll Ballard's The Black Stallion." - Michael Blowen, Boston Globe

"The first half of The Black Stallion is so gloriously breathtaking that the second half, the half with all the conventional excitement, seems merely routine. We've seen the second half before -- the story of the kid, the horse, the veteran trainer, and the big race. But the first hour of this movie belongs among the great filmgoing experiences. It is described as an epic, and earns the description." - Roger Ebert

The Black Stallion is a suffocatingly gorgeous adventure movie, which means it isn't very adventuresome at all... The director, Carroll Ballard, and the cinematographer, Caleb Deschanel, have captured so many lavishly beautiful images that the cumulative effect is one of repetition. In another context, this sort of glamour might prove more useful -- but the source material for The Black Stallion is Walter Farley's novel about a young boy's amazing escapades. And it requires more action in the telling, plain and simple." - Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"The relationship between man and beast develops slowly and mystically - the island interlude, utterly without dialogue, lasts 50 minutes, and is one of the most sustained, lyrical, rapturous sequences in the history of motion pictures, a visual symphony." - Jay Scott, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

"Visually, this is a breathtaking movie, one that in no way looks like a director's debut feature. The plot itself is not particularly original, but Ballard avoids the contempt of familiarity by adding a measured layer of naturalism to the narrative. Riding the stallion is never about breaking him or bending him to Alec's will; it's a matter of mutual acceptance. Ballard, who as the second unit director on Star Wars [1977] shot most of the desert exteriors, creates a series of spectacular images..." -- Jim Thomas,, 2010

Awards and Honors - THE BLACK STALLION

Special Achievement Academy Award - Alan Splet, Sound Editing
Academy Award Nominations - Mickey Rooney, Best Supporting Actor; Robert Dalva, Best Film Editing

Golden Globe Nomination - Carmine Coppola, Best Original Score

BAFTA Film Award Nomination - Caleb Deschanel, Best Cinematography

American Film Editors Award Nomination - Robert Dalva

British Society of Cinematographers Nomination - Caleb Deschanel

Los Angeles Film Critics Awards: Carroll Ballard (New Generation Award); Caleb Deschanel (Cinematography), Carmine Coppola (Original Score)

Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Award - Alan Splet

National Society of Film Credits Award - Caleb Deschanel (Cinematography)

National Film Preservation Board - Named to National Film Registry, 2002

Compiled by Roger Fristoe

back to top