New Crew, Thrilling Returns
When Zoetrope Studios decided to mount a sequel to its 1979 box-office and critical success The Black Stallion, its director Carroll Ballard and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel were wrapped up in other projects of note, respectfully Never Cry Wolf and The Right Stuff. Its screenwriters Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Rosenberg and William D. Witliff had also ridden into the horizon to work on such films as E.T. the Extraterrestrial, The Journey of Natty Gann, Barbarosa and Country. But Walter Farley’s 1945 sequel to his 1941 original, plus 16 other Black Stallion tales that had followed, were there for the adapting, so another creative team took over the reins for The Black Stallion Returns (1983). Robert Dalva, the Oscar®-nominated editor of the original, would assume the director’s chair for his only theatrical feature credit. After 25 years of working abroad, Carlo di Palma (Blow-Up) would undertake his first mainstream Hollywood movie as director of photography. The adaptation would be written by Jerome Kass (this Queen of the Stardust Ballroom TV writer’s only theatrical feature) and Richard Kletter (who would also collaborate on that same year’s Never Cry Wolf). The Academy Award®-winning composers would change nationalities from Carmine Coppola on the original to Georges Delerue for the successor. Credentials were overall very solid so would this be the rare follow-up film that brings home the prize? Not quite, and that’s a shame. Absent cinemagoers and unheeding reviewers, dismayed at a diminishment of the first film’s magic, short-changed a great central performance by young returnee Kelly Reno, now 16 but still scrappy, determined and wide-eyed as ever as Alec, who this time charts his own adventurous course on a rescue mission to the Sahara to recover his beloved Arabian black, stolen off his New York City-adjacent farm by the minions of a Berber chieftain to compete in a desert race. (The two Black Stallion films and 1983’s Brady’s Escape would be Reno’s only three theatrical features before the Colorado native would leave acting for ranching and trucking.) While many praised Di Palma’s evocative location photography of Morocco and Algeria and saluted the excitement of the final climactic race across the hard desert terrain to determine the horse’s ownership, The Black Stallion Returns only got to the winner’s circle as a beneficiary of the burgeoning home video market, where appreciative family audiences caught up with its equine charms and adventurous pedigree. Teri Garr (an Oscar® contender for Tootsie at the time the movie opened) returned briefly as Alec’s caring mom, and the film also features good performances by Vincent Spano (also on screen at the time in his breakout role of Sheik in Baby It’s You), Woody Strode, Jodi Thelen and Allen Garfield/Goorwitz. Dalva would reach a trifecta of beloved horse movies on his resume when he would later edit the exciting and acclaimed Hidalgo (2004), also about an American outsider undertaking a brutal desert-set horse race. With Delerue’s stirring music on an Isolated Score Track, The Black Stallion Returns debuts on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray July 12. Preorders open June 29.