Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken (1991)

G | 91 mins | Drama | 24 May 1991

Director:

Steve Miner

Producer:

Matt Williams

Cinematographer:

Daryn Okada

Editor:

Jon Poll

Production Designer:

Randy Ser
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HISTORY

Opening credits are preceded by the statement: “This movie is based on the true life story of a young girl…who dared to live her dreams.”
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, screenwriter-executive producer Oley Sassone became acquainted with former “diving horse girl” Sonora Webster Carver over a period of several years in the 1980s, while volunteering at The Lighthouse for the Blind in New Orleans, LA. Convinced that the story of her life and career would make an interesting thirty-minute documentary, Sassone contacted longtime friend Matt Williams, a New York City playwright. After Sassone shared his research with Williams, the playwright believed Carver’s story merited a feature-length film. Although Carver was reluctant at first, she and Sassone became good friends and she permitted him to tape-record her detailed recollections. The tapes were forwarded to Williams, who reviewed them and supplied Sassone with follow-up questions. Carver also provided the screenwriters with artifacts from her career, including advertisements and “historic documents pertaining to the famous Atlantic City Steel Pier.” Her sister and fellow diving horse girl, Arnette, shared her own reminiscences as well.
       Production designer Randy Ser had only two weeks to build a diving tower and a water tank that could be transported from the horse training facility in Newhall, CA, to filming locations in South Carolina. After considerable research, Ser found a manufacturer that constructed its water tanks with bolts rather than welding. He ordered a tank measuring forty feet in diameter and ten feet deep, with a capacity of 88,750 gallons. The tank was built to withstand the water displacement created by a ...

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Opening credits are preceded by the statement: “This movie is based on the true life story of a young girl…who dared to live her dreams.”
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, screenwriter-executive producer Oley Sassone became acquainted with former “diving horse girl” Sonora Webster Carver over a period of several years in the 1980s, while volunteering at The Lighthouse for the Blind in New Orleans, LA. Convinced that the story of her life and career would make an interesting thirty-minute documentary, Sassone contacted longtime friend Matt Williams, a New York City playwright. After Sassone shared his research with Williams, the playwright believed Carver’s story merited a feature-length film. Although Carver was reluctant at first, she and Sassone became good friends and she permitted him to tape-record her detailed recollections. The tapes were forwarded to Williams, who reviewed them and supplied Sassone with follow-up questions. Carver also provided the screenwriters with artifacts from her career, including advertisements and “historic documents pertaining to the famous Atlantic City Steel Pier.” Her sister and fellow diving horse girl, Arnette, shared her own reminiscences as well.
       Production designer Randy Ser had only two weeks to build a diving tower and a water tank that could be transported from the horse training facility in Newhall, CA, to filming locations in South Carolina. After considerable research, Ser found a manufacturer that constructed its water tanks with bolts rather than welding. He ordered a tank measuring forty feet in diameter and ten feet deep, with a capacity of 88,750 gallons. The tank was built to withstand the water displacement created by a horse and rider with the combined weight of 1,000 pounds. Ser also designed a diving tower that could withstand the sixty-mile-per-hour winds common during hurricane season on the Atlantic coast.
       With only eight weeks allotted for location filming, the producers sought locations that ideally suited their needs. The Atlantic City, NJ, set was built in Myrtle Beach, SC, where the production was threatened by three simultaneous hurricane warnings and at least one tropical storm. An authentic 1930s county fair was reproduced on a pasture in Orangeburg, SC, complete with period games, rides, and concessions.
       The diving horses were trained by veteran wrangler Corky Randall and his apprentice, Cherri Reiber. Under the supervision of the American Humane Association, Randall and Reiber spent nearly two months training six Arabian horses to dive. Randall observed no hesitation from the animals and concluded that they enjoyed diving. Director Steve Miner noted that the horses were required to dive no more than ten feet, and the illusion of a forty-foot dive was created through visual effects. The 7 Sep 1990 HR announced the start of principal photography later that month, beginning in Columbia, SC, before moving to Orangeburg and Myrtle Beach.
       A minor accident involving a diving horse during the Myrtle Beach shoot was reported in the 29 Oct 1990 DV. Although John Freed, of the Greenville, SC, Humane Society, stated that the horse tripped while climbing out of the water tank following a dive, the animal sustained no injuries. Regardless, the United Activists for Animal Rights and its affiliate, the Coalition to Protect Animals in Entertainment, objected to the idea of horses being forced to dive and called for a boycott of both the production and the completed film. Television personality and animal rights activist Bob Barker suggested that the horses were being endangered, as the incident could have easily resulted in a broken leg.
       The 24 Dec 1990 Var reported that Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Inc. scheduled the film’s release for 12 Apr 1991. Advanced screenings were held 18 May and 20 May 1991 in Los Angeles, CA, at The Beverly Connection and the Avco Cinema Center, respectively. Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken was released 24 May 1991 to lukewarm reviews.
       Sonora Carver was quoted in an 11 Jun 1991 article from the Santa Barbara News Press, saying she “resented” the inclusion of a scene in which her late husband is inaccurately portrayed attempting to strike his father. The 25 Sep 2003 NYT reported her death on 21 Sep 2003 at age ninety-nine.
       End credits include the following statement: "The producers wish to thank South Carolina State Film Office."

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
29 Oct 1990
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Sep 1990
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 May 1991
p. 10, 15
Los Angeles Times
24 May 1991
p. 8
New York Times
24 May 1991
Section C, p. 16
New York Times
25 Sep 2003
---
Santa Barbara News Press
11 Jun 1991
Section D, p. 1, 8
Variety
24 Dec 1990
---
Variety
27 May 1991
pp. 76-77
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Walt Disney Pictures Presents
Presented in association with Silver Screen Partners IV
A Matt Williams Production
A Steve Miner Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
2d asst cam
2d asst cam
Best boy elec
Best boy grip
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Assoc ed
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
Editing facilities by
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Asst set dec
Leadman
Set dresser
Set dresser
Set dresser
Set dresser
Prop master
Asst prop master
Set des
Set des
Const coord
Const foreman
Scenic artist
Scenic artist
Head painter
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost supv
Cost supv
MUSIC
Mus ed
Supv mus editing
Mus coord
Mus scoring eng
Mus scoring eng
Mus score mixed by
Bill Elliott
Orch
SOUND
ADR voice group
ADR voice group
ADR voice group
ADR voice group
ADR voice group
ADR voice group
ADR voice group
ADR voice group
Sd mixer
Sd mixer
Boom op
Boom op
Supv sd ed
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
ADR ed
ADR mixer
ADR mixer
Foley mixer
Foley artist
Foley artist
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Horse puppet supplied by
Puppeteer
Puppeteer
Puppeteer
Puppeteer
Visual eff supv
Visual eff prod
Opt supv
Opt supv
Matte artist
Eff cam
Titles and opticals
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
Makeup and hair asst
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Asst to Mr. Williams
Asst to Mr. Miner
Craft service
Asst loc mgr
Prod coord
Prod secy
Key prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod accountant
1st asst accountant
Dialect coach
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Extras casting
Head animal trainer
Asst trainer
Wrangler
Wrangler
American Humane Association representative
STAND INS
Stunt double Sonora
Stunt double Marie
Stunt coord
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
SOURCES
SONGS
“Happy Days Are Here Again,” written by Jack Yellen and Milton Ager, performed by Mason Daring; “On The Boardwalk In Atlantic City,” written by Mack Gordon and Josef Myrow; “Weren’t So Bad What Used To Be,” written by Mason Daring, performed by Eula Lawrence.
SONGWRITERS/COMPOSERS
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
24 May 1991
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 24 May 1991
Production Date:
began mid Sep 1990
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Inc.
10 June 1991
PA519669
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Produced and distributed on Eastman Film
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®
Prints
Prints by Technicolor®
Duration(in mins):
91
MPAA Rating:
G
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
31040
SYNOPSIS

In 1932 Waycross, Georgia, teenager Sonora Webster bobs her own hair, infuriating her guardian, Aunt Helen. On the way to school, Sonora accepts a challenge from her classmate, Clarabelle, to jump a cow pasture fence on horseback. The fence is damaged during the jump, and Sonora is late for school after rounding up the stray cattle. At school, Clarabelle taunts Sonora, who punches her in the face. Their teacher, Miss Simpson, gives Sonora a week’s suspension and notifies Aunt Helen. That afternoon, Sonora notices a newspaper advertisement, stating that Dr. W. F. Carver is seeking young women to ride diving horses for his carnival attraction. Upon her return home, Aunt Helen tells Sonora she is “nothing but trouble,” and is being sent to a state facility. Late that night, Sonora makes her way to the county fair, intent on becoming a “diving horse girl.” As she wanders midway, Sonora encounters a group of men accusing Dr. Carver’s son, Al, of cheating in a poker game. When the Ace of Hearts falls from Al’s hat, Sonora comes to his aide by covering the dropped card with her foot. Later, hotdog vendor Clifford Henderson directs her to Dr. Carver’s tent, and she waits outside while the showman scolds Al for his habitual gambling. After Al leaves, Sonora introduces herself, claiming to be the ideal candidate for his new diving horse girl. Dr. Carver dismisses Sonora, saying she is too young. Annoyed with her persistence, Dr. Carver carries Sonora outside the tent and advises her to go home. Undaunted, Sonora approaches Al and presents the playing card, implying ...

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In 1932 Waycross, Georgia, teenager Sonora Webster bobs her own hair, infuriating her guardian, Aunt Helen. On the way to school, Sonora accepts a challenge from her classmate, Clarabelle, to jump a cow pasture fence on horseback. The fence is damaged during the jump, and Sonora is late for school after rounding up the stray cattle. At school, Clarabelle taunts Sonora, who punches her in the face. Their teacher, Miss Simpson, gives Sonora a week’s suspension and notifies Aunt Helen. That afternoon, Sonora notices a newspaper advertisement, stating that Dr. W. F. Carver is seeking young women to ride diving horses for his carnival attraction. Upon her return home, Aunt Helen tells Sonora she is “nothing but trouble,” and is being sent to a state facility. Late that night, Sonora makes her way to the county fair, intent on becoming a “diving horse girl.” As she wanders midway, Sonora encounters a group of men accusing Dr. Carver’s son, Al, of cheating in a poker game. When the Ace of Hearts falls from Al’s hat, Sonora comes to his aide by covering the dropped card with her foot. Later, hotdog vendor Clifford Henderson directs her to Dr. Carver’s tent, and she waits outside while the showman scolds Al for his habitual gambling. After Al leaves, Sonora introduces herself, claiming to be the ideal candidate for his new diving horse girl. Dr. Carver dismisses Sonora, saying she is too young. Annoyed with her persistence, Dr. Carver carries Sonora outside the tent and advises her to go home. Undaunted, Sonora approaches Al and presents the playing card, implying that he owes her a favor. Al explains the details of the job but also apprises her of the negative aspects, including his father’s severe nature. In the stable, Sonora impresses Dr. Carver with her empathy for horses, and he hires her to work as a stable hand at his ranch in Virginia. One day, Al arrives at the ranch with an untamed horse he won in a card game. Despite warnings to avoid the horse, Sonora trains the animal and names him “Lightning.” Sonora and Al develop a mutual fondness, and she tells him of her ambition to be an entertainer in Atlantic City, New Jersey. She becomes jealous upon learning that Al and Marie are dating, and enhances her appearance to draw Al away from her rival. Al invites Sonora to go swimming in the moonlight, but when he tries to kiss her, she becomes frightened and runs to her room. Believing she has proven herself capable, Sonora asks Dr. Carver for an audition as a diving horse girl. He promises Sonora the opportunity if she can mount a moving horse. At her employer’s urging, Sonora makes numerous attempts and receives several bruises before she succeeds. Al is angry with his father for putting the girl at risk, and following a heated exchange, he leaves the ranch, promising to write to Sonora while he is away. However, when Al’s letters arrive, Dr. Carver destroys them without Sonora’s knowledge. Later, Marie sustains a dislocated shoulder after being thrown from a horse, and Sonora is trained to replace her. Upon witnessing Sonora’s successful performance, Marie refuses to share billing “with a stable hand” and quits to become an actress in New York City. Although pleased with her success, Sonora is heartbroken over not hearing from Al. Threatened with financial ruin by the Great Depression, Dr. Carver goes in search of more prosperous venues, accompanied by his new stable hand, Clifford Henderson. Al’s travels conclude with a trip to Atlantic City, where he discusses a business proposal with Mr. Slater, manager of the Steel Pier. Upon his return to the ranch, Al and Sonora have a joyful reunion, and nurse Lightning through an attack of colic. Although Dr. Carver is happy to see Al, he believes the show is doomed, until a telegram arrives from Mr. Slater, asking to negotiate a six-month contract. On the way to Atlantic City, Dr. Carver expresses his regret over destroying Al’s letters, then complains of ill health. Sonora, Al, and Clifford set out a picnic lunch, while Dr. Carver rests under a tree and dies in his sleep. Although they are saddened by the showman’s death, the team continues to their destination, and Al replaces his father as master of ceremonies. Because Lightning has not fully recovered from his illness, Sonora makes her Atlantic City debut on Red Lips, a horse that can be difficult to control. As Sonora climbs the tower, Al proposes to her over the public address system. She is initially flustered, but accepts the proposal to the cheers of the audience. As a band plays below, Sonora and Red Lips proceed with the dive, but a cymbal crash spooks the horse and he falls into the tank sideways. While Red Lips emerges unscathed, Sonora has difficulty seeing, due to her eyes being open when she hit the water. Days later, a doctor determines that her retinas have detached, and she will never regain her eyesight. Desperate for a replacement rider, Al invites Marie to return to the show. Meanwhile, Al helps Sonora adapt to her condition, and Clifford develops a “death-defying” attraction in which he rides a motorcycle inside a spherical cage. His achievement reminds Sonora of the value of perseverance, and she is determined to become self-sufficient. Sonora offers to cancel the wedding, fearing Al might feel obligated by her disability, but he dismisses her concerns. Although Sonora desperately wants to continue diving, she consistently fails to mount a moving horse, and her confidence erodes. However, after an evening getting reacquainted with Lightning, Sonora believes she is ready to dive again. In the morning, Sonora conspires with Clifford to lock Marie in her trailer and take her place, despite objections from Al and Mr. Slater. The dive is successful and the crowd responds enthusiastically, unaware of Sonora’s blindness. Sonora and Al are married soon after, and she continues as a diving horse girl for eleven more years.

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

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