“As American as corn-on-the-cob.”
Part of 20th Century Fox’s “Cinema Archives” Collection, Golden Hoofs introduces us to Jane (Jane Withers, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II) and her grandpa Dr. Timothy Drake (George Irving, Magic Town). They love horses, specifically trotters, and live on a trotting farm raising horses that race in harness races. Along comes new owner Dean MacArdle (Charles “Buddy” Rogers, The Parson and the Outlaw), and he’s set on changing the way things are done on the farm, including getting rid of the horses. Jane is devastated by this and sets out to convince Dean he’s making a huge mistake. She decides to train him in the proper way to race a harness horse. This is a labor-intensive process and so Jane and Dean end up spending a lot of time together, during which Jane develops feelings for Dean. Too bad Dean already has an intended, Cornelia (Kay Aldridge, The Phantom of 42nd Street), and Jane has a would-be beau of her own, Morthy (Buddy Pepper, Henry Aldrich for President).
Golden Hoofs is a scant 68 minutes long. That’s not a lot of time to squeeze in a lot of action, let alone late-occurring complications such as the aforementioned love interests. So I had to wonder why we didn’t see Morthy until minute 32 or Cornelia until minute 43. This is billed as a romance, but it really isn’t. At most, it’s a one-sided infatuation on Jane’s end; the romance does not play at all. There’s a very good reason for that.
Jane Withers was a child star along the same time as Shirley Temple, who she played against in Bright Eyes. Whereas Temple was cast as a sweetheart, Withers found her niche as a tomboy. Golden Hoofs came when Withers was struggling to find a foothold in that awkward age between child star and adult actress. The studios weren’t sure whether she could play a romantic teen lead or not. She was merely 15 years old in Golden Hoofs while Rogers was 37. Although Withers looks a bit older and Rogers looks a bit younger, it can’t erase the obvious difference. They have a decent enough chemistry, but it reads as siblings. Any of the “romantic” scenes between the two are awkward.
Thankfully, Golden Hoofs has more going for it than the speedy would-be romance between Jane and Dean. The love between Jane and her grandpa and their backstory in particular is very sweet. Although the way he’s treated automatically dates the film, Moses “Mose” (Philip Hurlic, Scattergood Rides High) is extremely charming and more than holds his own against the adults he’s acting with. The film takes a bit of a turn at the end for the better. I won’t spoil it, but to say the shift is away from the romantic aspect and it saves the film for me.
Golden Hoofs is a black-and-white film, and it holds up well. The film is dated by the obvious shots of stunt people riding during the harness races or the noticeable use of matte paintings or footage shot elsewhere as backgrounds. However, there’s a welcome clarity to the palette and stream overall, with a lack of scratches, debris or cracks that you might expect from a film this old. The audio is a simple stereo but it works as the soundtrack is clearly a background track to the overall mix. There are no bonus features.
Golden Hoofs is a very quick film. At just over an hour, the story wouldn’t be told today as it was then, so it lives as an example of a time long gone by. Though it’s billed as a romance, it’s more of a family film. I liked the relationship between Withers’ and Irving’s characters, and Hurlic’s Moses charmed me to no end. If you’re a fan of classic films, this will be right up your alley.