MIRACLE OF THE WHITE STALLIONS

DISNEY HOME VIDEO 

MIRACLE OF THE WHITE STALLIONS, for a number of reasons, may be the most atypical Disney live-action film ever released up to that time (1962). Completely bereft of  the "cute" kids, fast pacing for low attention spans, action or humor that, for better or worse, were trademarks of the usual Disney non-animated feature, and featuring three middle-aged stars (Robert Taylor, Lilli Palmer, Curt Jurgens) that even then were demographically wrong for what was sold as a "kid flick," my interest in this MIRACLE was constantly engaged by the strange convergence of all these un-Disney-like factors.

 The story is a true one: during the last perilous months of the World War II conflict, Vienna's famed Spanish Riding School  and its prized Lipizzan stallions are threatened by devastating bombing raids and indifferent Nazi commanders. Despite the dangers involved in evacuating the magnificent animals, the school's director (Taylor) and a handful of heroic citizens attempt a daring, life-threatening plan to move the stallions away from the ravages of war and, more importantly, keep the historic breed alive. 

 MIRACLE represents an interesting footnote to golden age giant Robert Taylor's long career. (Taylor was under exclusive contract to M.G.M. from 1934 to 1958, which makes him the longest-running contract star in film history, a record that never can be broken.) Taylor's performance here, his last in a major film, was widely criticized for being too one note ---- I couldn't disagree more. Taylor's characterization is an unflinching one, totally and passionately devoted to his horses, making it quite clear that this man would literally do anything to save his stallions, no matter what the cost. Nor does Taylor glorify or gloss over the fact that his character, despite or perhaps because of his zeal, exhibits very little patience , tact, common sense, and concern for the welfare of his loved ones. (It's fascinating to compare Taylor's work here wth that of Burt Lancaster's in John Frankenheimer's far superior 1964 THE TRAIN,  in which Lancaster, a tradesman with no knowledge or interest in art, is designated to prevent the Nazi's from transporting France's great art treasures back to Germany on a special train.) So strong , in fact , is Taylor's work here, that he is able almost single-handedly to cancel out this MIRACLE'S two major deficiencies, the incredibly lanquid, lethargic and lackadaisical direction of Arthur Hiller, and a ridiculously trivial musical score by Paul Smith, whose similarly simplistic musical meanderings were the sole negative factor of Disney's earlier, otherwise exemplary 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA.

 As good as Taylor is here, credit must be shared with Lilli Palmer, whose ability to animate and enliven a nothing part, as Taylor's patient and loving wife, is on luminous display here, and especially Curt Jurgens, who, through his warmth and sensitivity, almost makes you believe that there was such a thing as a "good Nazi". I said almost.

 The full screen transfer here is perfectly acceptable, as is the mono sound. All things considered, this MIRACLE OF THE WHITE STALLIONS is an interesting curiousity from
the Disney stable.     

--DICK DINMAN

 

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