Run Wild, Run Free aka Philip
Out roaming the moors, Philip encounters the kindly, nature-loving retired Colonel (John Mills) who is deeply sympathetic to the boy's plight. Like the nature that surrounds him -- the film was shot on location in Dartmoor, Devon, England -- the boy is a creature of mute-impulse who must be patiently tamed and drawn out just like the animals he encounters.
The Colonel introduces Philip to the wonders of the moors: the newly hatched birds whose nests are tucked in tree boughs and the copious bugs crawling under the peat. A world opens up to Philip that expands triple fold when he makes the acquaintance of a wild blue-eyed white colt grazing on the moor. The child forms a deep bond to the animal, a creature that seems to understand him like no other. The experience is transformative, until the horse runs away and Philip becomes distraught. He is distracted by a pet falcon, Lady, given to him by a farm girl neighbor, Diana (Fiona Fullerton). Together Philip, the Colonel and Diana train the bird, reveling in its progress and ability to fly to them. When the bird is horribly injured through Philip's carelessness, all of the progress the Colonel has made seems for naught.
But the bird recovers, the white horse returns and the Colonel teaches Philip to ride. When Diana and Philip are out riding one night and become lost on the foggy moor, it seems possible that this could be their last adventure amidst the wild forces of nature.
After his film debut at age six in The Counterfeit Constable (1964) and small parts in the films Fahrenheit 451 (1966) and Our Mother's House (1967), Mark Lester ascended quickly to fame as the child star of Carol Reed's Oliver! (1968). Reed's film version of Lionel Bart's stage musical was a highly successful, multiple Academy Award-nominee and winner for which Lester was cast at the age of eight. Because of his lack of singing ability, Lester's singing was dubbed by the film's music arranger Johnny Green's 20-year-old daughter Kathe Green. Lester later described his Oliver! co-star Jack Wild (who played the Artful Dodger) as a "long lost brother;" Wild's adulthood was plagued by money and alcohol problems and he died at the untimely age of 53. Lester and Wild also were teamed in 1971's Melody.
With his angelic features and vulnerability, Lester proved deeply sympathetic as the psychologically crippled Philip in Run Wild, Run Free. He went on to appear in a number of films into his teenage years but after the poorly received film Crossed Swords (1977) alongside Raquel Welch, Charlton Heston, George C. Scott and Rex Harrison, Lester gave up acting at the age of 19. He went on to complete an education in osteopathy and eventually became a close friend of singer Michael Jackson, even acting as godfather to his children Paris, Prince and Prince Michael II.
Lester's co-star John Mills, father of Hayley Mills (who starred with her father in several pictures), built his enormously popular film persona by playing decent, brave, dependable British military and civilian heroes early in his career, as Seaman Shorty Blake in In Which We Serve (1942) and ill-fated British explorer Captain Robert Scott in Scott of the Antarctic (1948). It was not until 40 years into his career that Mills won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for playing a mute village idiot in David Lean's Ryan's Daughter (1970). Mills was knighted in 1976 by Queen Elizabeth II. In a career stretching over eight decades, Mills continued to work into the 2000s, appearing in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi (1982) and the Rowan Atkinson comedy Bean (1997).
Former TV director Richard C. Sarafian made his feature film debut with Run Wild, Run Free and went on to make the 1971 cult film Vanishing Point and The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973) with Burt Reynolds and Sarah Miles.
Variety called Run Wild, Run Free, "an honestly moving film." In a 1969 review Roger Ebert called it "a sensitive and beautiful film," though he added that the wordless Philip might prove a frustrating hero for young audiences irritated by his inability to speak. The screenplay for Run Wild, Run Free was adapted by David Rook from his 1967 Scholastic novel The White Colt, although that book featured Philip as a teenager.
Director: Richard C. Sarafian
Producer: John Danischewsky
Screenplay: David Rook from his novel The White Colt
Cinematography: Wilkie Cooper
Production Design: Ted Tester
Music: David Whitaker
Cast: John Mills (The Colonel/The Moorman), Mark Lester (Philip Ransome), Gordon Jackson (Mr. Ransome), Fiona Fullerton (Diana), Sylvia Syms (Mrs. Ransome), Bernard Miles (Reg).
by Felicia Feaster