Phar Lap (1983) Poster


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Another Amazing Racehorse
ccthemovieman-120 December 2005
A good horse racing story - especially if it's based on real life - usually gets my attention and this is no exception. Phar Lap was a famous New Zealand race horse. This was another Seabiscuit-type horse who overcame big odds to achieve greatness. He just never got much press outside of New Zealand, I guess. Rob Leibman, as the generally unlikable guy in the film (who does have a few good moments, to be fair) is the most interesting actor in here. However, the star of the movie, outside of the horse, is Tom Burlinson, the best friend Phar Lap ever had and the only likable male in the film. The story never lagged and was beautifully shot. I am still waiting for a DVD of this and hopefully it will be made. It deserves having one and I was hoping it would ride the coattails of the Seabiscuit publicity tail, but apparently not. In summary, a nice story of a horse who triumphs despite a greedy trainer and owner who overwork the least according to the movie. Yeah, I realize there is a good chance much of this was exaggerated. The film industry tends to fictionalize these "true" stories. Whatever the case, this is a great story.
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Before there was Seabiscuit there was Phar Lap
sol20 October 2003
*****SPOILERS***** True story about the New Zealand wounder horse that nobody wanted at first and that almost no horse could beat in the end.

Phar Lap ran up a string of victories from Australia to the United States that astounded the racing world then and even now it's hard to believe that such a race horse ever existed, he was just that good. like the saying goes: "It too good to be true" but it is. Winning 37 out of 51 races in his racing career with 14 wins in a row between 1930-1931 the only thing that could beat Phar Lap was the crushing weight that local handicappers put on his back to give the other horses racing against him a chance.

In Phar Lap's last race in 1932 he traveled to the United States to race against the best racehorses in the world at the Agua Caliente race track on the Mexican border. It was there for the first time in his life Par Lap raced on dirt not grass where he ran on in all his races and not only won but broke the track and world record for a mile and a quarter doing it. Tragically a month later Phar Lap collapsed and died in his stable.

Moving as well as exciting film about the great Phar Lap with Tom Burlinson excellent as Tommy Woodcock, the young stable boy who was the only one who had any faith in the horses ability and brought the best out of Phar Lap when everyone else gave up on him. With top performances from Ron Leibman and Martin Vaughan as Phar Lap's owner and trainer who over the years with him began to see Phar Lap not as a racehorse but almost human.

One of the most stirring finals you'll ever see in any movie with Phar Lap beating the best there is in the world of horse racing in the Mexican desert at the Agua Caliente race track racing with an injured hoof and carrying a high weight of 129 pounds. Later after the race when Phar lap breaks down and dies the shock and heart felt loss, especially by young Tommy Woodcock, was one of the most touching and moving scenes I've ever seen in any film. You can really see what that horse meant to everyone who had the privilege to be involved with him. Great movie, but what makes it even greater is that the story is unbelievably true.

P.S One more thing about the movie, the part of Phar Lap was played by a horse named Towering Inferno.
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Great Flick!
frankscotryan15 July 2005
For ANYone out there who is: A) an avid horse racing fan B) loves remarkable stories

or C) doesn't need an "all-star" cast to recognize a great film/story.

Phar Lap is great. Find out what happens to a sport when a freak of nature comes on the scene and creates a world-wide panic. From simple fans, horse & animal lovers, politicians and even the mafia. A story that will touch and amaze you in ways you never dreamed possible. See the lengths man would go to get "even" the playing field. Then watch as this thoroughbred smashes the measures taken. If you thought "Old Yeller" was great (and it was), this movie should knock your socks off. It's an amazing true story that MUST be seen to be believed. Forget "Black Stallion" and the rest. Phar Lap is FANtastic!!
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Phar Lap is a wonderful story!!
lady_merrinda10 April 2006
I have watched Phar Lap several times and it brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it! It's a wonderful movie. I'm glad they finally put it on DVD!! I believe that Phar Lap was the worlds greatest race horse. There has never been another like him. It's a shame that he didn't get the chance to sire any babies. They would have been winners like him. I also think Tommy Woodcock was a great trainer! The actors, although unknown to most Americans, were very believable. You couldn't help but to fall in love with the wonderful little horse and I found myself rooting for him every time he raced. The movie will keep you enthralled and sitting on the edge of your seat.
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chmozart12 April 2000
This is a fantastic movie! The best part about it is that it's based on the true story of a horse named Phar Lap, which means lightning in Chinese. This story tells you about the life of this horse, who was laughed at as a yearling, because of his skinny and scraggly appearance and ugly head and his inability to really "move". He was purchased to be a racehorse, and he was from good bloodlines, but he was bought for a mere pittance compared to what a typically good horse would cost. His trainer Harry Telford was about to give up on him and sell him at the owners request, an American named Dave Davis . Harry's assistant and strapper, Tommy Woodcock, begged for them to give HIM a chance with the horse. He had developed a strong bond with Phar Lap and really was attached to him. Given a chance with the horse, Tommy would show them all, as he took over the training. He worked the horse gently and steadfastly. The horse soon grew into a massive, muscular and handsome horse, worthy of anyone's attention. Phar Lap loved Tommy so much that he would do anything Tommy put forward for him to do. He started training and running at lighting speed and before long and was taken to the tracks to race against the two top horses in Australia.....where he won by a landslide! He raced and won the Melbourne Cup as well as many other famous races. He lived only 3 short years but won 30 races in that period. He ran against the best, and had many fans but many foes as well, since he was the fastest horse around. There were threats placed on his life if he were to continue racing. This is how awesome this horse was. He had intimidated the world of racing with his ability to out race all others, even with the heavy handicaps they tried to bring him down with. He proved to be unbeatable, even with the record breaking weight the Australian Horse Racing Association made him run with. He was so good that he was interfering with the odds at the races as no one could beat him. This did not make the bookmakers happy. He mysteriously died after a Huge race in America called the "Agua Caliente". He became one of the worlds most famous horses of all time. If you love horses, or you even like them a little, then see this movie and it will change your perspective on horses forever! TWO THUMBS UP, AAA+, and 5 STARS!
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I felt like I was there.
Bob Gutekunst2 December 1999
I used to groom and own standard breds, so I know the emotional attachment that can develop between horse and man. This movie got me so emotionally involved, I felt like I was there. The actors, the scenery, the music, the story, and the awesome appearance of the horse that played Pharlap gave me goosebumps. Especially exciting was when Pharlap was late and made his grand entrance onto the track at the 1930 Melbourne Cup. This movie is not only one of my favorites, but one of the most often watched by me.
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so horse movie made....
johnmichaelm23 July 2002
I saw this movie, before I ever heard of this racehorse. The story was beautifully done, with only a hint of overdramatization. The story of the horse and it's career alone provided enough fodder for a great story. As a legend in Australia, Phar Lap transferred to film was done expertly and accurately. I especially enjoyed the performance of Tommy Woodcock's character, as well as The Ron Liebman performance.
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An Amazing Story
alexsturm8830 January 2001
Phar Lap is truly an amazing film, and an amazing horse. The movie tells the story of this Australian horse who defies the odds to become one of the best racehorses in the 20th century. A remarkable story of heartbreak and triumph. Any horse or sports lover should watch and enjoy this movie. If you get a chance to see it (very difficult) you will cherish this memorable movie. Phar Lap is my personal favorite, and I cannot wait till they re-release this wonderful story.
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I stumbled on this movie having never heard of it...I'm glad I did!
techspec16 July 2003
This movie is the "Rocky" of animal pictures. Based on a true story, it made me want to go and do a little research on the real Phar Lap. Your emotions will span the scale while you watch this movie. It doesn't have an all star cast...or even a recognizable one, but this movie is worth a rental fee or purchase.
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Light Entertaining Australian Story
wimbo515 June 2001
I enjoyed this film, especially being a horse racing fan myself. The one possible flaw of this film is the beginning. It begins the film with Phar Lap's death, and looks back at the events that transpired before it. However even though every Australian knows the complete story, for any foreign viewer the whole story has been given away! This spoils a possible strong and shocking end to the story.

The story line of Phar Lap is strong, he was a freak racehorse who came from rags to riches to win the hearts of all Australians during the great depression. After winning the biggest race in the world, his life tragically ends in suspicious circumstances, which forces a nation into mourning. Sub-plots however, including a romance featuring Tommy Woodcock, and Telford's money problems don't hold up. This doesn't spoil the movie as the story of Phar Lap can stand on its own.

Tom Burlinson does a good job of Tommy Woodcock, Rob Leibman practically walks away with the movie as the American Dave Davis. However, Martin Vaughan's performance is average as Phar Lap's trainer, Harry Telford.

Even with the tragic ending it is still light entertaining movie about a great Australian Icon.
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There's never been a bad movie about a horse!
CarpenterKen14 December 1998
This is a finely crafted Australian docu-drama, a true story, that establishes Simon Wincer as a world-class director. Tom Burlinson, better known as "The Man From Snowy River," is outstanding as Tommy Woodcock, the Aussie horse racing legend.
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excepitional story of the great Phar Lap
easygoer594620 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
One day over 20 years ago I had some vacation time from work and went to rent some movies, the lady at the video store had recommended this movie for anyone who was horse lover, when I got home I watched it I was totally caught up in the movie, at the time I had never heard of Phar Lap, it was a wonderful story how a nation became so in love with this horse expressly with his terrible start. It's to bad that people had to show such creed and selffishness for the almighty $$ at the cost of the horses life. Since viewing the movie for the first time I have probab;ly watchwed it over 50 times, and cry at the end each and every time. I now collect anything regarding Phar Lap, photos books, I have some actually film of Phar Lap and Tommy Woodcock that I cherish, no one is allowwwed to borrow it cause I am adfraid I will never get it back, it cost a lot of money.

The racing scenes were so exciting even though you know what happens after watching so many time s you can't help but cheer for him. The music is so beautiful, I certain wish people would watch this movie and keep a open mind, that it is just not a story about a horse.
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spoiled79tweety28 October 2004
I loved this movie, it was very intriguing, and I would love to see it come out on DVD! My mom has been looking for this movie, but only on DVD too! I hope that you decide to bring it out on DVD, because I believe that it would be a good investment. Hopefully soon we will see this movie come out in the new releases, just like all the other movies that are coming out! DVD is the best way to go. Thank you for making a movie like this, it touched me, and it touched my heart. I love horses, and this movie was one of the best I have seen!


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a race between Seabiscuit and Phar Lap
starflyer121 January 2007
This movie is one of the best horse movies EVER. Seabiscuit and Phar Lap race I wonder which great horse would win? How about a race with "The Black" AKA the Black Stallion. What a great race that would be. I did not know that that many people knew about Phar Lap. Too bad the owner and trainer felt they needed to keep this poor horse proving himself over and over to the point that it became greed. Perhaps someone should have poisoned them and let Phar Lap rest and enjoy his life. I do not remember how Seabiscuit died, but I do know he lived in Willits, in Northern California. I am looking forward to getting the Seabiscuit DVD soon, already have Phar Lap and all the Black Stallion DVD's. Wish there were more great horse movies. starflyer1
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great film...but not always historically accurate
lcf-914 November 2005
I saw the movie PharLap when it was originally released and several times since .I have also read a number of books on his story. It is a very entertaining and moving film..but it rather annoys me that the makers of the picture imply heavily that if it was not for Tommy Woodcock PharLap would not have been the champion that he turned out to be. This is a slight on the real trainer,Harry Telford and to a lesser extent on PharLap himself. The truth is that PharLap would have achieved greatness with any competent trainer and would have done so with or without Tommy Woodcock. PharLap is a good movie.It is a pity that the makers sacrifice the facts for the sake of the story itself and to the detriment of the character of Telford.
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the film of a legend
adamhall1723 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
SPOILERS AHEAD this is the true story of a legend. I've seen so many horse films black beauty to sea biscuit red rum to the long ranger and none can be compared to the best of them PHAR LAP this is the true story of a true legend which becomes the greatest horse racer of all time even now i don't think any horse has matched his stats. the story starts in 1928 or 1927 one of them when phar lap comes of a boat to his new owner his owner knows hes gonna be a champ but he has to train him and train him at 1st phar lap looses his 1st race but then he gets trained by young tommy woodcock thats when phar lap becomes the best of the best. march 20 1932 phar lap has gone over the states to race for the big prize however Dave Davis the owner has been warned if phar lap wins keep him well guarded cause the mafia don't like foreign horses wining for some reason. Phar lap wins that race. 16 days later phar lap the greatest horse of all time died in the arms of his trainer tommy. this film is just amazing its a shame u cant buy it in the shops some parts can be really sad when i saw phar lap just drop and die at the end i was almost in tears but there are some funny moments at times.

as someone would say Phar lap wasn't just a horse he was the best.
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Sheri7 October 1998
Any horse lover would love this movie. Is a bit sad, but I enjoyed it very much. I would recommend who loves horses and Austrian movies to see it.
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Phar Lap and the Diva
catscratch20002 November 2005
My mother nursed Tommy Woodcock before he died and said Phar Lap was the love of his life, his death broke his heart.

This week there are the inevitable comparisons with Makybe Diva who has rightly earned her own place in the history books. But she is 7 years old and has run 36 races, Phar Lap was only 3 when he died and had already raced 51 times, 37 of them wins.

His heart now resides in the National Museum in Canberra (his body is in the Melbourne Museum). The size of his heart is incredible to behold. I don't think there will ever be another horse that matches the incomparable Phar Lap.
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The name Phar Lap brought happiness and joy to the hearts of millions
matt-the-signaller14 November 2000
The name Phar Lap brought happiness and joy to the hearts of millions in a time of need. It was the time of the great depression and in Australia there were only 2 names talked about. One was Bradman, the greatest cricketer of our nation and then there was Phar Lap. This movie is a MUST SEE.
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Handsomely mounted (!) period yarn of trials and triubs of champion Aussie nag.
BOUF7 September 2007
There's a sort of double nostalgia at work here – for the greatest racehorse in history, and for the golden days of Australian movie making. This 1983 release was a popular and successful movie about one of Australia's greatest sporting legends – the phenomenal racehorse who, during the Great Depression, was the punters' favourite, despite the attempt by race officials to weight him out of events. David Williamson's script efficiently covers all the historical, personal and emotional highlights of the story (including the racing officials' unpleasant prejudice against Phar Lap's Jewish owner). Starring Tom Burlinson (good with horses), it's a handsomely mounted (!) production, shot in Panavision (by Oscar winner Russell Boyd) with lots of period detail and familiar Aussie faces, like Gia Carides, Martin Vaughan and Richard (The Sullivans) Morgan.
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Phar Lap
Jaime_angel_abc19 March 2007

Phar Lap is one of the most respected horses. I go see him in the Melbourne museum at least every 2 years and it is so powerful to be standing in the presence of such a legend. I was in a reenactment of Phar Lap last year at a royal show and I was riding a horse racing next to the horse playing Phar Lap and I was overcome with emotion to be riding next to the legend (even though it was an reenactment.)

I suggest this movie to everyone and everyone should know the story of phar lap because it is world history and he deserves his name to be know right around the world.
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Commendable, but not admirable.
MrPrudence0421 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I thought Simon Wincer did an alright job of telling this story, although with a subject like Phar Lap he wasn't too hard pushed to stir emotions in the viewer, particularly if they're of Australian origin. To be truthful, it does fall short of the mark in some respects.

To start with, I didn't think the film's sequence of starting with his death, flashing back through the horse's life then back to the death really worked. I thought it was disjointed and didn't achieve anything. The death itself was also not treated with the proper attention given the enormous amount of hearsay and speculation about the poisoning and other circumstances surrounding Phar Lap's untimely end. We are pretty much picked up and dropped at the end of the film.

Also, the very title of this film "Phar Lap: Hero to a Nation" isn't indicative of the film's focus. A country that was suffering through the torments of depression had its hopes lifted by this single racehorse, and that wasn't given enough emphasis. The only real glimpse we got of the people's struggle through the era was Harry Telford's wife complaining they didn't have enough money. It really needed more of a macro perspective. Phar Lap was a legend for more reason than just winning races. He symbolised something far greater, helping resurrect an entire nation out of despair.

Some parts of the film were quite good, and before watching it I was hoping that it wouldn't be too sappy or indulgent with the orchestral backdrop. I was relieved to see that it was quite sincere in this respect, and the costumes and set were very fitting. The acting also was commendable, particularly Ron Liebman playing David Davis, who seemed to be channeling Al Pacino in certain scenes.

Overall I came away feeling a little disappointed with the treatment the film gave a figure such as Phar Lap. However, hiring the DVD is worthwhile for the Special Features that contain Wincer's interview with Tommy Woodcock, but prepare to cringe at Wincer questioning Woodcock on what he thought of his movie.
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you have got to see it
cyndyfarrell184 September 2006
i first watched this movie when i was in primary school on a school day trip i would have to say it has been one of the best movies i have ever seen i even cried a lot of the young kids i hung around did not get it at all they said that it was an old persons movie but i didn't think so. i am now 20 and still think it is one of the best of all time and could watch it over and over again I'm telling all people now if you haven't seen it or or kids haven't go get it out and watch it it has a lot of history in it and is a excellent movie. so people that are in to the good Aussie films and animals and a good teary movie please go for this one you wont regret it i promise
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As good as Family Guy
Shake_tomorrow29 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
When I first saw this movie, I was thinking it wouldn't be nearly as good as Family Guy. It is now my second favorite movie. When I first brought it home, I cried throughout the whole movie and watched it four times in a row in a single day. It could have done better putting Phar Lap's death at the end of the movie though. You just can't help but love him and if you go to Melbourne I suggest you go the Melbourne Museum and see him. If you already have, you will know Towering Inferno (horse that played Phar Lap) couldn't get the right size of Phar Lap. A little fact is Towering Inferno was struck by lighting and died after the movie was filmed. My favorite part is the end of the movie where, even with a painful hoove injury he won the American race. *Sob* It was to be his last ever race.
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A very entertaining film
Howard Schumann22 May 2006
Having just watched the Kentucky Derby (my favorite sports event), the Preakness (very depressing), and Seabiscuit, Phar Lap was the next logical choice. This is a 1983 film from Australia about a colt who had a phenomenal record yet died under mysterious circumstances. The film's implication is that, after his biggest victory at Agua Caliente in Mexico on April 5, 1932, he was killed by organized crime but it never says so specifically and no evidence has ever turned up to prove or disprove it. Phar Lap, like Seabiscuit, was the little horse that could. He came from nowhere and won 37 of 51 races and placed second or third in five others. In eight of his stakes races, he set new records, winning the Melbourne Cup, the Victoria derby, The W.S. Cox Plate, the Melbourne Stakes and many others.

Phar Lap (a phonetic spelling of the Thai word for ''lightning'') was known to his trainer Harry Telford (Martin Vaughan) and his stable boy Tommy Woodcock (Tim Burlinson) as "Bobby" though he was also called "Big Red", "The Red Terror", "The Wonder Horse", and "The Big Fellow". Like Seabiscuit, Phar Lap became a hero to many during the great depression because he was bought for a song and no one believed he would amount to much. As the film opens, Dave Davis (Ron Liebman), the wealthy owner is out to protect his investment, but does not believe in the colt, calling him a cross between a sheepdog and a kangaroo and reluctantly agrees to lease him to Harry for three years. After losing his first few races, Phar Lap is trained to come from behind and overtake horses and the film details his rise to fame including the often-strained relationships between owner, trainer, and the stable boy who loved Bobby and wanted to protect him from Harry's tough training methods.

The film also describes the corruption in racing at the time and the fierce betting that took place among mob interests. Because of his constant victories, Phar Lap became a threat to some of the high rollers and one told the owner, ''Look Dave, if something's good that's O.K. But if something's too good, that upsets the entire system.'' In Mexico, Phar Lap was forced to carry 129 pounds for his shot at the $50,000 purse and had to wear heavy bar shoes to protect his feet from a painful heel injury. Even though he was racing on dirt for the first time, he established a record time, coming from last place to win in a crowded field but it was to be his last race.

Phar Lap is a very entertaining film and the horse racing sequences are splendidly done, though there is never much suspense about the outcome. Burlinson (The Man From Snowy River) is outstanding as the strapper who eventually becomes a trainer and Liebman invests his not entirely unsympathetic character with a humanity that stands in sharp contrast to some of the ruthless moguls running the sport at the time. While the film is often marred by some trite dialogue and melodramatic music, you will fall in love with Bobby as I did and perhaps shed a tear at a very moving conclusion.
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