If you’re doubtful, invite your favorite child or two and share their pleasure.
An Illusion review by Joan Ellis
If you decide to see “Hidalgo,” prepare yourself by slipping back into an earlier time when simple storytelling often featured animals and clichés. This one is long and repetitive, and does everything several times to make sure we don’t miss the point; but it is also a touching tale of a man and his horse – Frank Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen) and the beautiful mustang, Hidalgo. If you’re doubtful, invite your favorite child or two and share their pleasure.
The greatest plus, and it’s a big one, is that Viggo Mortensen and Hidalgo are entirely plausible as the best of friends. It’s that fact that allows you to smile with appreciation instead of a smirk when our heroes are enveloped in the predictable. When Frank bellows, “Nobody hurts my horse!” you know bad times will rain down on the villain.
What’s good? The scenery, for one thing, is startling, if familiar. Desert, sand dunes, quicksand, sandstorms, tents for the princely (Omar Sharif as Sheikh Riyadh) – all quicken the proverbial pulse. The villains, for another. Listening to a constant stream of mid-eastern background chatter, we half expect Peter Lorre to skulk around a corner. It’s a safe bet you won’t be surprised by any of the bad guys. They look and act just like what they are. Even if it’s all filmed on a back lot somewhere, it’s enough for those of us whose minds are filled with the ghosts of movies past.
The clichés are sent up in 30-foot color images without a hint of embarrassment or shame. Lady Anne Davenport (Louise Lombard) tells us how comfortable she is among the Bedouins, while sitting in lonely splendor astride a white horse in her white silk dress, crowned by an enormous hat trimmed in gold, all topped by a parasol.
The plot: Frank is working for Buffalo Bill Cody’s wild west show when the suggestion is made that he enter “The Ocean of Fire,” a crushing trans-Arabian race against 100 pure Arabian horses. Within a few moments we are rooting for Frank, dressed now in perfect Ralph Lauren pants, vest, wide belt and just right cowboy hat. He is “the cowboy” to the Bedouins, “Far Rider” to his Indian friends back home. He will race across 3000 miles of desert to the ocean through sandstorms and snares, past Bedouin cloaks flying beautifully behind their riders. Duplicity and betrayal hang in the dusty air.
A recurring and rewarding sight: At the beginning, Frank says, “God didn’t make all men equal. Mr. Colt did.” Well, throughout the movie, Frank shoots his Colt pistol several hundred times and never once do we see the bucket or trunk necessary to carry the ammunition – those pants have deep pockets. But don’t worry about details. Like the early Lassie movies, no threat could erase a stocky, brave, loyal animal and his loving master. It’s Hidalgo and Viggo against the Arabs and Mrs. Davenport, and it’s no contest.
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