The Black Stallion (1980)

G | 119 mins | Adventure | 19 March 1980

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HISTORY

       The last name of horse wrangler Bruce Moriarty is misspelled “Moriarity.”
       During the week of 12 Aug 1974, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola purchased 72,000 shares in Cinema 5 Ltd., a distribution and exhibition company with a chain of exclusive-engagement theaters in New York City. As noted in a 21 Aug 1974 DV article, Coppola’s significant financial interest in the company was distressing to major Hollywood studios. Insiders speculated that he was threatening to make “revolutionary” changes to industry standards by wresting control of production and distribution from the major studios. At the time, Coppola was widely recognized as one of the world’s most commercially successful producers, with unprecedented earnings from directing and co-screenwriting The Godfather (1972, see entry), producing American Graffiti (1973, see entry), which was made for under $1 million and grossed $126 million, and taking on the role as director-producer-co-screenwriter of The Godfather Part II (see entry), which went on to earn him three Academy Awards after its 20 Dec 1974 release.
       In late Aug 1974, Coppola and his production company, American Zoetrope, were already perceived as anti-establishment. The San Francisco, CA, studio had a mission to give directors ultimate control, or “final cut,” of their pictures, as well as decision-making power in marketing and promotion, and profit sharing in distribution agreements. With Coppola’s new interest in Cinema 5, he and Fred Roos, co-producer of Coppola’s The Conversation (1974, see entry) and The Godfather Part II, were granted seats on the board of directors. Once in power, the men announced plans to launch a “creative collaboration” ... More Less

       The last name of horse wrangler Bruce Moriarty is misspelled “Moriarity.”
       During the week of 12 Aug 1974, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola purchased 72,000 shares in Cinema 5 Ltd., a distribution and exhibition company with a chain of exclusive-engagement theaters in New York City. As noted in a 21 Aug 1974 DV article, Coppola’s significant financial interest in the company was distressing to major Hollywood studios. Insiders speculated that he was threatening to make “revolutionary” changes to industry standards by wresting control of production and distribution from the major studios. At the time, Coppola was widely recognized as one of the world’s most commercially successful producers, with unprecedented earnings from directing and co-screenwriting The Godfather (1972, see entry), producing American Graffiti (1973, see entry), which was made for under $1 million and grossed $126 million, and taking on the role as director-producer-co-screenwriter of The Godfather Part II (see entry), which went on to earn him three Academy Awards after its 20 Dec 1974 release.
       In late Aug 1974, Coppola and his production company, American Zoetrope, were already perceived as anti-establishment. The San Francisco, CA, studio had a mission to give directors ultimate control, or “final cut,” of their pictures, as well as decision-making power in marketing and promotion, and profit sharing in distribution agreements. With Coppola’s new interest in Cinema 5, he and Fred Roos, co-producer of Coppola’s The Conversation (1974, see entry) and The Godfather Part II, were granted seats on the board of directors. Once in power, the men announced plans to launch a “creative collaboration” between the Cinema 5 and American Zoetrope, gaining control over the production, distribution, and exhibition of their films.
       The affiliation was marked by the development of three projects, including Apocalypse Now (1979, see entry), which was set to be written and directed by John Milius, and an unnamed picture to be written and directed by Coppola. The latter film was identified as Tucker in a 29 May 1975 DV article, and was released thirteen years later as Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988, see entry). The third picture named in the Cinema 5-American Zoetrope merger was The Return of the Black Stallion, later to be released as The Black Stallion. Coppola told the 21 Aug 1974 DV that he envisioned Cinema 5 as “a home for other directors ‘who want a distributor who cares about their films,’” but not a contender with major Hollywood studios.
       By that time, Zoetrope had acquired screen rights to all thirty books published to date in Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series, and the $1.2 million production was to be entirely financed by Zoetrope. Coppola told DV that the film’s distribution was “a test pattern” for future Cinema 5-American Zoetrope releases. He planned to circumvent traditional deals that forced directors to relinquish ownership and control of their work. Coppola added that his University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) film school colleague, Carroll Ballard, would never have been given a chance to direct The Black Stallion at another studio, since it was his first theatrically-released feature film as a director. A 23 Nov 1977 Var article credited Ballard for bringing the story to American Zoetrope.
       Nearly one year after the Cinema 5-American Zoetrope deal, a 29 May 1975 DV article announced that Coppola was “moving ahead” with the three pictures under his new company banner, Coppola Cinema-7, which was based at American Zoetrope. The films were planned to be self-financed through the presale of foreign rights, but Coppola changed his relationship with Cinema 5, and had decided to work with a major studio for domestic distribution. Coppola told DV that he was still on the board of Cinema 5, and suggested a merger with Coppola Cinema-7, but Cinema 5’s president, Don Rugoff, noted that his company did not invest in the three productions, and potential distribution deals would be determined at a later date. The Black Stallion was set to be the second picture in the new Coppola Cinema-7 lineup, following the completion of Apocalypse Now, which Coppola now intended to direct himself.
       The Black Stallion remained in limbo for another year and a half due to delays on Apocalypse Now, according to the 23 Nov 1977 Var article. At that time, United Artists Corp. (UA) had taken over as distributor, and was preparing a budget for The Black Stallion. After Coppola’s success with American Graffiti, UA was eager to pick up American Zoetrope projects. The studio distributed Apocalypse Now and purchased international distribution rights for The Black Stallion before filming began.
       Although the 26 Nov 1976 DV stated that production was scheduled to begin within the next two months, principal photography was pushed back over seven months to 4 Jul 1977. Filming started in Toronto, Canada, then moved to Fort Erie, Canada, by 15 Aug 1977, according to a People magazine news item published that day. After four weeks in Canada, which stood in for Flushing, NY, the production moved to Italy for two months. Filming in Italy was divided between Sardinia, where the desert island scenes took place over nine weeks, and Cinecittà Studios in Rome. The shipwreck sequences were filmed on Cinecittà’s back lot “lake.” The 23 Nov 1977 Var announced that filming was nearing completion in Rome.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, the picture’s horse race finale was the first sequence filmed. It was shot at the Fort Erie Racetrack, which staged an “All-Star Jockey Invitational” so the stands would be filled with onlookers. However, filming was delayed for one week due to a rainstorm, and it was impossible to replicate the crowd. A night shoot at Toronto’s Woodbine Racetrack, capturing scenes of the training that led up to the championship race, was postponed several days. The scenes in which “The Black” runs through the city streets were filmed by a second unit in Toronto.
       The Black was portrayed by Cass-olé, a famous Arabian show stallion owned by Francesca Cuello, a seventeen-year-old girl from San Antonio, TX. Cass-olé was supported by five stunt horses that were all trained by film industry veteran Glenn Randall. After eleven weeks with the horses at Randall Ranch in Newhall, CA, the sixty-nine-year-old “master” trainer was unable to accompany the animals to Toronto, so his sons Corky Randall and Glenn (J. R.) Randall went in his place. Each horse was trained with different characteristics, based on the scenes in the movie: a fighting horse, a loving horse, a racehorse, and a wild horse. None of the horses were entirely black, so their coats were frequently dyed. Every morning, Cass-olé’s mane was thickened with artificial hair extensions to appear more “wild.” A 3 Mar 1980 People article noted that Cass-olé was given a seven-year contract at Zoetrope, since the studio was already planning a sequel.
       In addition to the five stunt horses, two horses were imported to Sardinia from Camargue, France, because they were naturally adept at ocean swimming. The scene in which “Alec Ramsey” is pulled to shore by The Black after the shipwreck was captured by transporting the white Camargue horses, dyed black, into the ocean on a custom-made barge. Since shooting took place in the remote Marina di Arbus, the vessel had to be hauled through sand dunes in separate pieces, then reconstructed by Giorgio Gallani, an uncredited “water specialist,” and Marina di Arbus locals. The same coastline was used for the scene in which The Black stomps a cobra snake to death. The cobras, brought to the set from Milan, Italy, were “milked” of their venom to prevent fatalities.
       The next Sardinian locations were Capo Caccia, where the crew hand-carried equipment up sheer rock precipices that reached 800 feet above sea level, and the town of La Caletta, which was a base camp for filming in Capo Comino and San Teodoro Beach. Alec’s first ride on The Black was planned for the beach at Capo Comino, but it was covered in seaweed. Capo Comino’s sand dunes were used for several shots, but the main scene in which Alec rides The Black was filmed on the mile-long San Teodoro Beach. Its fine white sand and wide coastline were reportedly safer for Kelly Reno, who performed the role of Alec, and for the horses. Reno was already a skilled horseback rider when he was cast in the film.
       In mid-Sep 1977, the production moved to the rugged rock formations in Costa Paradiso, which required a six-hour round trip for the horse crew to get to the beach. Filming was delayed by storms in Nov 1977, but the scene in which The Black swims after Alec as fisherman take him to their rescue boat was captured at Costa Paradiso. The last Sardinian location was Cala Gonone, which featured grottos that were only accessible by boat.
       The last sequence filmed during principal photography was the shipwreck scene. The boat’s deck and stern were constructed separately over a three-month period inside Cinecittà’s back lot tank. Parts of the ship and props were salvaged from a period boat that was slated for demolition. The scene reportedly took three nights to complete.
       A 4 Oct 1979 UA press release in AMPAS library files announced that the film was scheduled to premiere on 13 Oct 1979 at the New York Film Festival, and open theatrically on 18 Oct 1979. The Black Stallion was also selected as the closing night feature film at the San Francisco Film Festival on 21 Oct 1979. However, the picture did not open in Los Angeles, CA, until 14 Dec 1979.
       On 2 Apr 1980, HR listed a gross of $4.1 million in the first twenty-three weeks of release and explained that the screenings in Los Angeles and New York City were part of a “minimultiple” test opening. Seven days later, a 9 Apr 1980 Var column stated that the picture began its official national release on 19 Mar 1980. Including the earnings from the “minimultiple” release, the film had grossed $8,185,097 on 378 screens by 9 Apr 1980.
       Three years later, UA and Zoetrope collaborated with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., to release a sequel, The Black Stallion Returns (1983, see entry). Kelly Reno and Teri Garr reprised their roles, and actor Hoyt Axton, who performed the role of “Alec’s father” in The Black Stallion, was cast as the “Narrator.” Although the last name of Alec’s character is spelled “Ramsay” in many contemporary publications and in The Black Stallion Returns, it is credited as “Ramsey” in The Black Stallion. A television series starring Mickey Rooney and Richard Ian Cox as “Alec Ramsey” aired on The Family Channel from 15 Sep 1990 to 16 May 1993.
       The Black Stallion was nominated for two Academy Awards in the following categories: Actor in a Supporting Role (Rooney) and Film Editing (Robert Dalva). It won an AMPAS Special Achievement Award for Sound Editing (Alan Splet).
      End credits state: “Filmed on location at Ft. Erie Racetrack, Ontario; Toronto; Sardinia; and at Cinecitta Studios, Rome.” In addition: “Omni Zoetrope wishes to gratefully thank: Ontario Jockey Club; Ontario Antique Car Association; Los Angeles Turf Club, Inc.”
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
21 Aug 1974.
---
Daily Variety
29 May 1975
p. 1, 8.
Daily Variety
26 Nov 1976
p. 1, 5.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Oct 1979
p. 6, 11.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Apr 1980.
---
Los Angeles Times
9 Dec 1979
p. 46.
New York Times
13 Oct 1979
p. 12.
People
15 Aug 1977.
---
People
3 Mar 1980
p. 89.
Variety
23 Nov 1977
p. 7, 22.
Variety
17 Oct 1979
p. 10, 38.
Variety
9 Apr 1980.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Francis Ford Coppola presents
from Omni Zoetrope Studios
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
Asst dir
2d asst dir--Canada
2d asst dir--Canada
2d asst dir--Canada
PRODUCERS
Prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d unit photog by
Addl photog
Key grip, Canadian unit
Gaffer, Canadian unit
Cam op, Canadian unit
Asst cam, Canadian unit
Still photog, Canadian unit
Key grip, Italian unit
Asst cam, Italian unit
Asst cam, Italian unit
Company grip, Italian unit
Gaffer, Italian unit
Still photog, Italian unit
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Storyboard
Asst art dir, Canadian unit
Asst art dir, Italian unit
FILM EDITORS
Assoc ed
Assoc ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Addl ed
Addl ed
Addl ed
Addl ed
Negative cut
SET DECORATORS
Set dec, Canadian unit
Prop master, Canadian unit
Set dec, Italian unit
Prop master, Italian unit
Prop master, Italian unit
COSTUMES
Ward, Canadian unit
MUSIC
Mus prod and ed by
Mus prod and ed by
Spec mus arr by
Addl mus improvisations by
Addl mus improvisations by
Addl mus improvisations by
Addl mus improvisations by
Addl mus improvisations by
Addl mus improvisations by
SOUND
Supv sd ed
Post prod rec
Post prod rec
Dial ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Prod rec, Canadian unit
Prod rec, Canadian unit
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff des, Italian unit
Spec eff, Italian unit
Spec eff, Italian unit
MAKEUP
Make-up, Canadian unit
Hair stylist, Canadian unit
PRODUCTION MISC
Exec asst
Asst to the prod
Asst to the prod
Prod asst
Loc mgr--Canada
Loc mgr--Canada
Post prod cont
Casting--U.S.
Casting--Canada
Casting--Canada
Loc auditor
Asst loc auditor
Prod controller
Asst prod controller
Scr supv, Canadian unit
Prod coord, Canadian unit
Prod coord, Canadian unit
Unit mgr, Italian unit
Asst unit mgr, Italian unit
Prod's secy, Italian unit
Loc asst, Italian unit
Loc asst, Italian unit
Loc asst, Italian unit
Prod accountant, Italian unit
Asst accountant, Italian unit
Tutor, Italian unit
Snake trainer, Italian unit
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through Om
STAND INS
Horse trainer
Stunt coord
Wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col control
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
From the novel The Black Stallion by Walter Farley (New York, 1941).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Return of the Black Stallion
Release Date:
19 March 1980
Premiere Information:
New York Film Festival premiere: 13 October 1979
New York opening: 18 October 1979
Los Angeles opening: 14 December 1979
Production Date:
4 July--late November 1977
Copyright Claimant:
United Artists Corporation
Copyright Date:
29 January 1980
Copyright Number:
PA57931
Physical Properties:
Sound
Recorded in Dolby Stereo™
Color
Duration(in mins):
119
MPAA Rating:
G
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25828
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1946, off the coast of North Africa, young Alec Ramsey and his father travel aboard the H.M.S. Drake, a passenger ship from Liverpool, England. One afternoon, Alec sees a wild black stallion on deck. The animal rears and thrashes as a team of men whip the horse, restrain him with ropes, and quarantine him in a makeshift stall. Alec later brings the stallion sugar cubes, but is chased away by a Middle Eastern passenger wearing a headscarf. That night, Alec’s father shows him winnings from a poker game and gives the boy a pocketknife and a statuette of Bucephalus, a magnificent black horse. Alec’s father recites his version of the ancient legend of Bucephalus, an untamable animal whose owner, King Philip II, planned to kill it in an arena. However, the king’s son protested, and Philip declared the boy could keep the stallion if he could ride it. The young man succeeded, and later became Alexander the Great. As Alec and his father prepare to sleep, a fire breaks out on the ship and they race to the deck. Separated from his father, Alec tries to help the stallion escape, but the horse’s Middle Eastern keeper interferes and cuts off Alec’s life preserver. The boy’s father attacks the man and tries to toss the preserver back to his son. As the horse jumps overboard, Alec is thrown from the ship without a life vest and plunges dangerously close to the propeller. He sees the stallion’s ropes caught in the blades and cuts ... +


In 1946, off the coast of North Africa, young Alec Ramsey and his father travel aboard the H.M.S. Drake, a passenger ship from Liverpool, England. One afternoon, Alec sees a wild black stallion on deck. The animal rears and thrashes as a team of men whip the horse, restrain him with ropes, and quarantine him in a makeshift stall. Alec later brings the stallion sugar cubes, but is chased away by a Middle Eastern passenger wearing a headscarf. That night, Alec’s father shows him winnings from a poker game and gives the boy a pocketknife and a statuette of Bucephalus, a magnificent black horse. Alec’s father recites his version of the ancient legend of Bucephalus, an untamable animal whose owner, King Philip II, planned to kill it in an arena. However, the king’s son protested, and Philip declared the boy could keep the stallion if he could ride it. The young man succeeded, and later became Alexander the Great. As Alec and his father prepare to sleep, a fire breaks out on the ship and they race to the deck. Separated from his father, Alec tries to help the stallion escape, but the horse’s Middle Eastern keeper interferes and cuts off Alec’s life preserver. The boy’s father attacks the man and tries to toss the preserver back to his son. As the horse jumps overboard, Alec is thrown from the ship without a life vest and plunges dangerously close to the propeller. He sees the stallion’s ropes caught in the blades and cuts him loose with his new pocketknife. While the vessel sinks, Alec ties the horse’s rope around his waist and the stallion swims away. Alec awakens on a desert island with only his knife and the Bucephalus statuette. After days of solitude, he finds the stallion, tangled in his ropes. He creeps toward the rearing beast and sets him free yet again. One afternoon, the boy awakens to a cobra within striking distance of his face, but the stallion stomps the snake to death and gallops away. Over time, Alec learns to make fire and eat seaweed. He eventually lures the horse to eat dried leaves from his hand. Alec leads his new animal friend, “The Black,” into the ocean, where he mounts the horse and learns to ride. The boy and The Black become inseparable. When fishermen discover Alec, the stallion refuses to stay behind on the island and amazes the men by swimming after them. They haul The Black onto their boat, and Alec is returned home to his mother in Flushing, New York. However, the stallion is displeased by his containment in a suburban backyard, and Alec finds it impossible to readjust to domestic life. One day, The Black is startled by trash collectors wearing headscarves and gallops away through the city’s streets. Alec gives chase to no avail. Early the next morning, he awakens to the sound of a horse-drawn carriage and meets an elderly black gentleman named Snoe, who claims that his horse, “Napoleon,” knows The Black’s whereabouts. Snoe tells the boy to follow the morning star to a remote barn. There, Alec sneaks inside and falls though the floor into an underground shelter. An elderly farmer named Henry Dailey appears, insisting the horse belongs to him. However, he changes his mind when he sees Alec’s mastery over the wild animal. Henry feeds the boy breakfast and explains that he has failed at making a living. He agrees to give The Black a home on condition that Alec cleans the stable. Alec returns home but continues to work at the stable and learns that Snoe’s “Napoleon” also lives on Henry’s farm. One day, Alec discovers an abandoned office, filled with old racing trophies, and realizes that Henry Dailey was once a jockey trainer. He asks Henry to help him become The Black’s jockey, and the old man obliges. However, The Black remains wild and is resistant to saddle and reins. Henry teaches Alec to ride on a bale of hay and warns him to always hold The Black’s mane. Early one morning, Henry secretly begins training Alec and The Black on a real racetrack. He invites his former partner, Jake, to time The Black’s speed and they agree the horse has enormous potential. As training continues, Snoe tells Alec that he should keep his animal wild, but the boy is intent on proving The Black is the fastest horse alive. On another night, Henry covertly invites horseracing’s famous radio announcer, Jim Neville, and a host of investors, to the racetrack. During a thunderstorm, The Black surpasses record time, but Alec finishes the lap unconscious, clinging to the horse’s mane. The boy comes to with a handful of hair and hears Jim Neville agree to promote The Black as a “mystery horse,” keeping the identity of Henry and Alec a secret. Sometime later, Neville publically challenges the two top racehorses in the world to compete against The Black, and arranges a tournament. He encourages his radio audience to bet on the newcomer. At home, Alec tells his mother that he will ride the “mystery horse,” and Henry Dailey makes an impassioned plea on the boy’s behalf, but she is unwilling to put her son in danger. However, she changes her mind when Alec shows her the Bucephalus statuette and tearfully explains how The Black saved his life. At the Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, California, a sold-out crowd anticipates Neville’s contest. Dressed in a masked uniform, Alec tries to contain The Black at the starting gate, but the stallion fights a contender and injures his leg. The race begins, but The Black falls behind, and Alec loses balance. However, the boy and his horse gallop closer toward the lead as his mother, Henry, Snoe, and “Napoleon” watch. When Alec and The Black overtake the world-champion horses and win the race, the crowd goes wild, and Alec throws his arms into the air, remembering his days on the island. A veterinarian promises Alec that The Black’s leg will heal, and the boy shows the Bucephalus figurine to his beloved stallion. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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