My Friend Flicka (DVD)

“I always hoped I’d get one decent colt out of that bunch.”

Mary O’Hara’s novel “My Friend Flicka,” about a young boy named Ken McLaughlin and a colt he names “Flicka,” caught the public’s imagination in 1941 when it was published in condensed versions in a couple of the popular magazines of the time. The novel tells the story of how clumsy and lackadaisical 10-year-old Ken, who lives on a ranch in Wyoming with his parents Rob and Nell, is taught responsibility when his father agrees to let him have his own colt. Ken’s choice is a risky one — the colt of a wild albino stallion. He names the colt Flicka, which is Swedish for “little girl.” Gaining Flicka’s confidence, and overcoming both illness and his father’s impatience over the colt’s progress are only some of the difficulties that Ken must overcome.

The novel was soon optioned for the movies by Twentieth Century-Fox. Fox saw Roddy McDowall in the lead role of My Friend Flicka, as a follow-up to his recent success in How Green Was My Valley. Filming was done on location in Cedar City, Utah during the summer and early fall of 1942, with the completed film being premiered in Salt Lake City in April 1943. It was well-received by both critics and the movie-going public. Meanwhile, author O’Hara proceeded to write two sequels and both were also filmed. Thunderhead, Son of Flicka (1945) featured the same principal cast as the original, while 1948’s Green Grass of Wyoming saw a new set of players entirely. Fox also produced a successful television series that aired during the years 1956 to 1958.

My Friend Flicka is one of the quintessential boy-and-his-animal-companion films. The story is a timeless one and is conveyed in the film with warmth and conviction. There is no really strong antagonist, yet the film maintains an effective dramatic arc by telling the story from Ken’s point of view and successfully blending the setbacks in Flicka’s progress with the family’s own setbacks in running a successful ranch in wartime. Fox wisely chose to film in Technicolor, taking advantage of the beautiful Utah mountain scenery. The cast is well chosen. Roddy McDowall shows that his work in How Green Was My Valley was no fluke. He portrays Ken as both likable and convincing without making the characterization cloying. Preston Foster and Rita Johnson are similarly effective as Ken’s parents, albeit a rather idealized couple. Good supporting work comes from James Bell as ranch-hand Gus and Diana Hale as Ken’s younger sister. The horse scenes are all handled with skill. The early sequences of the stampeding wild horses and how they are headed off from racing over the edge of a cliff are particularly exciting.

Fox presents the film on DVD full frame in accord with the original aspect ratio. The source material is obviously in good shape and Fox has managed a superior transfer from it. Colours are bright and vibrant and show off the scenery to advantage. Shadow detail is good and blacks are deep. Edge effects are minimal. A very handsome-looking effort indeed. Both stereo and mono tracks are provided, with the stereo giving a noticeably deeper dimension to both dialogue and Alfred Newman’s pleasant score. A Spanish mono track and English and Spanish subtitles are provided. Extras are three trailers — for Bushwhacked, Far from Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog, and Lucas.

THE VERDICT

Even the most jaundiced watcher of boy-and-his-pet films should find the simplicity and sincerity of My Friend Flicka appealing. This is truly a family film that inspires and entertains without being cutesy or syrupy. Fox delivers a very fine transfer on DVD that shows off the Technicolor photography to advantage. Recommended.

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Here are the top ten things we know: 1) She lives in Ohio 2) She is MWOC unless you count her two dogs 3) Believes Avatar was NOT the greatest movie ever made 4) Operates on a primarily nocturnal basis 5) Wants to write the screenplay for the movie adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle 6) Watches a variety of shows on television including, but not limited to: Castle, @midnight, Face Off, Sherlock and Whose Line is it Anyway? 7) Does not believe anyone will actually read this besides the editor (hello, Editor!) 8) Has attended more than one N*SYNC concert in her lifetime but only one NKOTB concert 9) Was in a car crash that would have killed her had she not been wearing her seat belt 10) Is in the process of catching up on Supernatural (incidentally would possibly leave her husband for either of the Winchester Brothers depending on the episode in question) and the bonus! 11) Enjoys reading, writing, laying on the beach (long walks tire her out) and assorted snack foods like frozen M&M's.
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