Phar Lap

1983, Movie, PG, 107 mins


Another story of a boy and his horse, this time a factual one set in Australia in the early 1930s. The film opens as the horse lies dying in a Mexican stable after winning the biggest race of its career, the Agua Caliente, in April 1932. The cause of Phar Lap's death goes unexplained, as it has to this day, although blame is clearly directed toward the gamblers who consistently lost money as the horse won race after race. From this point the narrative moves backward, showing how the young horse was purchased in New Zealand by Harry Telford (Martin Vaughan), a trainer whose experienced eye spots potential in the animal despite its lack of pedigree. His partner in the purchase is Dave Davis (Ron Leibman), a fast-talking American Jew who suffers greatly at the hands of anti-Semites in Australia as his horse triumphs over their horses. The horse is extremely skittish, though, and loses its first four races, even as Telford tries ever more brutal methods of snapping it into line. Finally Tommy Woodcock (Tom Burlinson), a stable boy, establishes a bond with the horse through kindness, and from that time on it wins every race. Phar Lap today is remembered in Australia in the same way as Man O' War in the US or Red Rum in Britain--as the greatest horse of its day and a symbol of national pride. Although the film plays a little too heavily on this patriotic theme, its simple boy-and-his-horse story is beautifully effective. leave a comment

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Phar Lap
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