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Black Beauty (1946), based on Anna Sewell's 1877 novel, was one of many films about horses that arrived in the wake of MGM's 1944 smash hit, National Velvet, which launched Elizabeth Taylor's career. This time Mona Freeman played a motherless English girl whose father gives her a horse to raise and Richard Denning is the young American who wins a place in her heart. Through a series of misadventures, Beauty ends up being traded into the hands of a new, cruel owner and Freeman and Denning must find him before it is too late.
The novel, told from the horse's point of view, saw him pass through many hands, but the producers decided to focus on only one owner, the English girl, possibly to capitalize on National Velvet. The film, the fourth film adaptation of Black Beauty, was far from a lush Technicolor MGM production. This was a decidedly low-budget affair. Lacking any top stars, Black Beauty was shot in little over a month, from November 11 - December 22, 1945, at the PRC Studios (Producers Releasing Corporation), one of the Poverty Row studios in Hollywood. Alson Productions, Inc. was the producing company and Twentieth Century-Fox acted as distributor.
Along with Freeman and Denning, the cast included Angela Lansbury's real-life mother, Moyna MacGill, J. M. Kerrigan and Evelyn Ankers as Freeman's romantic rival for Denning. Lillie Hayward and Agnes Christine Johnston adapted Sewell's book for the screen and Max Nosseck directed. Beauty was played by Fury, who at the time was the second-highest paid animal in Hollywood (Lassie being the first). Sewell wrote the book in the last year of her life in order to raise awareness of the treatment of horses and the film's producers carefully noted that the movie was supervised by the Humane Society.
The film opened August 29, 1946 and went into general release the following month. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times pegged the film as appealing mainly to "the pre-teenage set". He added, "The small fry were present in goodly number at the Victoria Theatre yesterday for the opening of Black Beauty and the chances are they had a much more rewarding hour than the rest of us. The very young members of the audience signified their delight with occasional excited squeals, as when the stable goes up in flames and Black Beauty, tired and haggard after a long day of wagon pulling, appears content to let the flames end his misery. The producers admit in a foreword that the picture is a "free" adaptation of Anna Sewell's minor classic, but assert that they have preserved the spirit of the book. Well, it is one thing to turn a camera on a handsome, glossy horse and get the animal to prance about and to display affection toward its loving mistress. Horses are wonderful actors, and the one in this picture is no slouch. But it takes something more than just a friendly spirit to keep a picture going, and the things which happen to Black Beauty, from his foaling to his desperate plight as a workhorse, are all too reminiscent of the recent Smoky ."
by Lorraine LoBianco
Crowther, Bosley The New York Times 30 Aug 46
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