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Despite a rather slow start, this film is absolutely classic Disney and
worth the time spent. Everyone should know the story of the Lipizzaner
stallions and Col. Podhajsky, the man who risked everything to save them.
The stallion's flight from Vienna at the tail end of WWII, and the fact
General Patton and the 3rd Army were heavily involved in their rescue, is
exciting stuff and has achieved almost legendary proportions. It's to the
film's credit that the viewer eventually gets wrapped up in the Colonel's
crusade, and begins to feel a sense of wonder as random chance and pure
conspire to save the Lipizzaner breed.
I would not have put Robert Taylor in the lead role of Col. Podhajsky, though. As he grew older he got stone-like in his acting, and this is one of his more granite-faced performances. Luckily for us they also cast Curt Jurgens, who plays a good Nazi for once. He is the standout in this production (human standout, that is; the horses are the real stars). He gives a bravura performance as a German General caught up in the atrocities of war with no idea how he could have ever gone along with the Nazis as long as he has. His eyes seem to bleed pain, and he gives the film a welcome dose of humanity as well as the viewpoint of a person who normally follows orders but who has had enough of doing what he doesn't believe in. Lilli Palmer plays the Colonel's wife, and she is more than adequate to the role.
Eddie Albert is used mostly for comic relief as a horse trainer, even singing a Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman song for us; fortunately he's good no matter what he does. And, an extremely young James Franciscus is an Army Major who plays a big role in interesting Patton in the horses, and also in liberating the mares and foals from a Russian onslaught in Czechoslovakia (and also a huge lot of American GI's being held prisoner in the same place); his 1000-watt smile is a welcome addition.
Bottom line, this is a wonderful film for the entire family, if you can get the kids to sit still through the slow beginning; the older they are the easier it will be. It's a film about a little-publicized event in WWII, and shows how the two sides worked side-by-side to save a treasured piece of Viennese history. The horses are gorgeous, and we don't see near enough of them, which is the only real detriment to this fine film about the marvelous White Stallions of Vienna and the Spanish Riding School.
Miracle of the White Stallions is a story set in the final days of
World War II in Europe. Robert Taylor plays an Austrian Colonel in the
German army. Back in his civilian days he was the head of the famous
Spanish Riding School in Vienna which featured the famous Lippazaner
breed of specially trained horses. The school had been operating in
Vienna for four hundred years and its future in doubt with both the
American and Russian armies closing in and the Lippazaner mares over in
The performances of these horses had entertained Viennese natives and visitors for generations and they were and are considered a national treasure. The film concerns Robert Taylor's efforts to save the horses aided of course by Lilli Palmer playing his wife.
The criticism of this film is that Taylor's performance is too wooden. But I think the point is missed that he was a single minded man on a mission and apparently flunked out of diplomacy school. Fortunately he's married to Lilli Palmer who smooths a lot of rough edges out during the film. I think that's what was intended in this script.
As the German surrender and Taylor fortunately falls into the hands of the Americans instead of the Russians, he manages to interest an American major played by James Franciscus in his quest. Who then in turn interests the theater commander who is George S. Patton.
As we learned in the movie Patton, George was an old horse cavalry man and even rode in the 1912 Olympics for the United States. Good thing he was in charge instead of Montgomery. Patton is nicely played by character actor John Larch.
Others in the cast of this very nice family film are Eddie Albert as Taylor's aide and Curt Jurgens as a weary German general who helps Taylor in his hour of need.
Nice piece of family entertainment from the Walt Disney studio.
This exceptional live-action Walt Disney adventure-drama might have
benefited from a warmer actor in the lead role, but Robot Taylor (pun
intended) nevertheless brings strength and conviction to the part of an
angry but caring man. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent,
especially Lilli Palmer and Curt Jurgens who supply a depth of emotion
to a dry and unsentimental story.
The film works the family-oriented animal interest of the Lippizan horses into the framework of a dramatic and often suspenseful wartime adventure. One needn't be a horse-lover to be caught up in the story and end up caring about the animals which in this film are symbols of art, grace and beauty surviving a war-torn world. The audience is teased with glimpses of the stallions at play and in training and learns to appreciate their value so that the full-blown horse-show finale comes as a welcome joy.
The well-produced movie was filmed on location in Austria and is handsomely photographed. There is a gripping battle scene and adults will be impressed with the maturity of the entire project.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was 13 when I saw this wonderful film upon it's first release. This is a stirring piece of history and gallantry by an assortment of real life men and women from Germany, Austria and the US. The film was released less than 20 years after the actual events depicted. I have to say upon just seeing it again 50 years later, that it more than holds up. Other reviewers here have more than amply explained the plot and my contribution, if you will, goes like this: With all of the varied Disney films through the decades, I cannot recall any that was as majestic and carefully produced as this one. Filmed on an obviously healthy budget, it is an opulently told story, running just under 2 hours. Robert Taylor as the director of the school and Lilli Palmer as his supportive wife are both outstanding. Their commitment to save their beloved horses is not only conveyed convincingly, it is realistic with what was going on at the end of WW2 in Europe. Curt Jurgens as a world-weary German officer who movingly laments his self- contempt for his recent past as he takes small comfort having provided aid to the imperiled Riding School, going against Nazi orders. There are several characters who point that there existed more life-threatening concerns than saving horses. It was pointed out that a Russian unit did not share horse lovers' concerns and destroyed the Hungarian Riding School's horses when their food supply was running out. The great true story, was that the American forces were able to blend the rescue of Allied soldiers and liberation with the expedient but daunting task of rounding up hundreds of horses so that experts could later separate the breeds and care for them accordingly. Many Disney films---even the most cherished---rarely established such a mature, unsweetened film. In no uncertain terms, we are shown and explained the formidable, life-risking task of preserving a centuries old tradition and magnificent animals when a terrible war's final end threatened their existence.
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