Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Off the Cuff Movie Review - The Miracle of the White Stallions

     This week's movie night was my older son's pick, and he chose a movie he read about in a book, about a true story I had never heard of, but enjoyed watching. The white stallions of the title were Lipizzaner stallions, at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria. The story is set at the end of WWII, as the Allies are moving into Austria and pushing the Germans out. The narrator and main character, Colonel Alois Podhajsky, is the master of the school, which the Germans pressed into service training horse riders. As the Allies advance, Colonel Podhajsky (played well by Robert Taylor) worries that the school will be hit by bombs and the horses killed. More than damaging a building, it could end the horse breed, as it seems all of the Lipizzaners in the world are at this school. The mares have already been sent away to Czechoslovakia, but the Germans won't allow the school to evacuate, claiming it would be a show of weakness. The Colonel eventually decides he's evacuating anyway, and with some covert and overt collaboration from supportive Austrians, he secures space on a freight train to get the horses out of danger, relocating to an estate in southern Austria , far away from Vienna. The Americans eventually appear, and set up a major headquarters at the estate. The Colonel asks the American army for help in recovering the mares, which he fears will fall into the hands of the Russians, and be destroyed (or maybe eaten). After putting on a show for General Patton, the Americans do undertake an expedition to rescue the horses, as a side project to liberating a large number of Allied prisoners, held by a force of Germans who also hold the horses. 
     The mares and stallions are safe and re-united by the end, and all is well. This was, after all a 1960's Disney movie. For being set in a war, there was little destruction shown, even during the one battle sequence. There are evil Nazis, of course, but they are walk-on, walk-off characters. This film was enjoyable, but not exactly exciting. I kept expecting some big built-up Hollywood style dramatic climax, but that didn't happen, because the film was trying to accurately tell the story. The highlight of this film, instead, is the last ten minutes where we were treated to the spectacle of the refurbished post-war School in full gala, with the horses performing to a cheering crowd. The performance was a sight to behold, and demonstrates why the Colonel was right in risking so much to save the horses and the School. Among the spectators were several people who helped with the evacuation, claiming to their grandchildren that they 'saved the horses'.
     The Spanish Riding School was of no military value, it held no strategic location, and I suspect the Colonel did not get rich as the director of the School. What he did, though, was to save a cultural institution of his country, a thing of beauty, something that no amount of money or modern technology could replace. I wish that more people were interested in saving old beautiful things. 

A Lipizzaner stallion: (image courtesy of Conversano Isabella through Wikipedia)
File:Favory Pallavicina.jpg

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