Posted on 6/03/11 10:01 AM
Having seen Seabiscuit, the grittier story of a horse that lifted a nation's spirit, I thought I would try Disney's horse movie, Secretariat. Unlike Seabiscuit, who accomplished his great feats long before I was born, Secretariat's story occurred right in the middle of my college years. And surprisingly, Disney does a very good job with it. Like Seabiscuit, Secretariat performed at a time when America was looking for heroes again. Nixon had just resigned in disgrace and the Vietnam war was just concluding. America needed a hero. Secretariat obliged.
Diane Lane does a great as Penny Chenery, a housewife from Denver who has a horse farm thrust upon her when her father becomes debilitated following the death of her mother. In a microcosm of the the women's movement of the time, Penny takes on the Virginia male horse society by taking over her father's failing venture. She hires Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) a well-regarded but not quite successful manager. Together they hire Ronnie Turcotte (Otto Thorwarth) , a hell bent, but determined jockey to ride Secretariat. The cast made the characters both believable and highly enjoyable. You cared what happened to them each step of the way.
Movies like these are challenging since you know the story as well as the final result. However, director Randall Wallace weaves an excellent story where you can snicker at the people making fun of Penny or Lucien knowing that comeuppance is just around the corner. The scenes where the owner of the challenger horse, Sham, boasts to the press are particularly great as he is not likable and you can't wait until he gets his - and he does.
And then there's the horse. Secretariat's a beautiful horse and a camera hog as well. His records still stand at all three races of the Triple Crown - The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes for those unfamiliar with the various tracks that are the components of the Triple Crown. He momentarily helped America forget its problems as he simply raced his way into horse racing history. I still remember when Sports Illustrated named him "Sportsman of the Year". It was quite an achievement for an animal to upstage all the athletes in MLB, the NFL, the NBA and the NHL combined. But then again, his records speak for him....