The Black Stallion is a perfect gem. Based on Walter Farley’s 1941 novel, which spawned 16 sequels, Carroll Ballard’s feature debut is rich in adventure, suspense and mythical elements and marks the prize-winning short-subjects director as a major talent. Ballard’s camera eye and powers of sequence conceptualization are manifestly extraordinary.
Set in 1949, pic is divided into four basic sections. Opening sees the American boy Alec (Kelly Reno) on a ship with his amiable father. Also on board is ‘the Black’, a stallion owned by a menacing Arab.
After both end up overboard, Alec and the horse find sanctuary on a deserted Mediterranean island, filmed on unusual Sardinian locations. Ensuing half hour, in which the two gradually make contact and establish rapport is pulled off completely without dialog, backed instead by Carmine Coppola’s richly complementary score.
After rescue, focus shifts Stateside. Alec’s mother (Teri Garr) naturally doesn’t understand her son’s now nearly symbiotic relationship with Black. Horse escapes, later to be found by the boy at farm of retired racehorse trainer Mickey Rooney. Fourth act is consumed by Black’s entry into a match race as a ‘mystery horse.’
Performances are all lowkeyed and right on pitch. Film went into production over two years earlier and is said to have experienced numerous problems along the way. They’ve all been ironed out.
1979: Nominations: Best Supp. Actor (Mickey Rooney), Editing