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All Movie Talk

Welcome to All Movie Talk! In this audio podcast, Samuel Stoddard and Stephen Keller talk about old and new movies, famous directors, historical film movements, movie trivia, and more.

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Top 6 Word: Horse

For this entry in the Top 6 Words series, I gave my word selection script a rest and let my friend LaZorra pick a word for me. Predictably, she came up with the word "horse." I am well-equipped for this one, given how many horse movies I've seen with my wife. But my favorite "horse" movie turned out not to be a horse movie at all.

My favorite "horse" movies after the jump. Try thinking up some "horse" titles yourself first, though, before looking at mine. Talk about your own favorites in the comments section.

6. Justin Morgan Had a Horse (1972)

Justin Morgan Had a Horse chronicles the creation of the Morgan horse breed in the form of a light family film. Sometimes it seems a little too mechanical, but if you can gloss over the wooden sections, it can be a pleasant and even enchanting experience. Kids and horse enthusiasts won't go wrong with this one.

5. Dark Horse (1992)

Dark Horse follows formula that will be very familiar to lovers of equine movies. The troubled new girl in town finds a place in life when she starts work at a stable. She comes to love horses, and one in particular. She and/or the horse will suffer an accident, which will prove to be a blessing in disguise.

It's easy to be dismissive of formula like this, but the reason the formula exists in the first place is because, when done right, it works. And it works here, thanks to the gentleness and compassion the film has toward its characters. This won't be for everyone, but if you like horses or Hallmark movies, check this out.

4. The Horse Soldiers (1959)

John Ford directs this tale of the cavalry during the Civil War. It stars John Wayne and William Holden and is based on the true story of a Union mission to sneak into Confederate territory and cut off the enemy's supply lines. Despite the wartime story, it feels a little more like a western than a war movie.

3. Ride the Pink Horse (1947)

This one isn't a horse movie but a film noir. It stars Robert Montgomery, who also directed, in a tale of revenge and/or blackmail in a Mexican border town. Montgomery sets a wonderful tone here with the seedy locations, and it is intriguing that we don't exactly know what the main character is up to, or even which side he's on.

2. The Horse Whisperer (1998)

Robert Redford's adaptation of Nicholas Evans' book The Horse Whisperer is the first film which Redford both starred in and directed. It's commendable work; Redford fulfills both duties with elegance and flair. He has crafted a magnificent film here that isn't afraid to take the time it needs to flesh out the story. The opening moments are quiet and leisurely, lulling the viewer into a false sense of security. The first plot point occurs, and the rest of the film is about the healing of the family.

The horse whisperer is played by Robert Redford, who has a seemingly magical way with not just horses, but people as well. He works wonders, but almost introduces new problems when he becomes unduly attached to the leading lady, Kristin Scott Thomas.

The drama is convincing, and the performances sincere and heartfelt. Redford's direction is daringly confident, and its pacing is just what the story needs. As a visual bonus, almost all the film takes place outside in the West; the backgrounds are filled with gorgeous sweeping vista views.

The movie's one bothersome flaw, however, is that it doesn't explain much about what actual horse whispering is. In the movie, it just looks like voodoo. But horse whispering is a real training method, dating back to the 19th century. It's about using body language to communicate with horses the way they do with each other. The movie could have been greatly improved if it had hinted that the Redford character had mastered an actual craft, instead of just innately possessing some kind of mystical power.

But I must compliment Redford for other story decisions made to adapt the book for the screen. The movie's ending is an improvement on the book's soapy conclusion -- here, it serves the story's purpose much more effectively, granting its characters the strength to drive the events, rather than the other way around.

1. Horse Feathers (1932)

Horse Feathers, one of the Marx Brothers' best films (arguably the best), is a madcap parade of jokes, gags, and wit. Groucho's one-liners have never been delivered faster, and the antics of Chico and Harpo are as funny and creative as ever. Although specific scenes in their other greats, such as Duck Soup (1933) and A Night At the Opera (1935), upstage anything to be found here, Horse Feathers is very likely the most solid and funny of the bunch as a whole.

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