**/**** Image A+ Sound B
starring Roddy McDowall, Preston Foster, Rita Johnson, James Bell
screenplay by Francis Edwards Faragon, based on the book by Mary O'Hara
directed by Harold Schuster
by Walter Chaw Revealing itself as a primary source for Spielberg's E.T. (complete with scene in which a boy and his extra-species pal are found unconscious in a stream), Harold Schuster's prototypical horse opera My Friend Flicka finds its locus in the relationship between a boy and his animal, its comic relief in a bratty little sister (Diana Hale) who can't be trusted, and its antagonist in a stern but loving father (Preston Foster). Released to good success in 1943, the film (based on three novels by Mary O'Hara) fostered two sequels and a popular television show that banked on the syrupy good old-fashioned paterfamilias values that proliferated in TV's late-'50s "Golden Age." Accordingly, the film is burdened by a surplus of problem/solution climaxes and a perversely invasive score by Hollywood legend Alfred Newman that telegraphs every emotional response with a moldy insistence best described as "John Williams-y."
Ken (Roddy McDowall, who would reprise this role in the sequel Thunder: Son of Flicka) is a troublesome kid who'd probably be medicated out of his childhood these days. Looking to find the cure for his lack of attention span, Ken's pa, at the unthreatening urging of mother Nell (Rita Johnson), lets the boy choose a colt to raise. Ken picks Flicka, a horse from a spirited rogue line whose mother experiences an untimely, and sort of shocking, end as she's being carted away from her foal. It's perhaps the inevitable conditioning of decades of anthropomorphic children's entertainments that the plight of the horses in My Friend Flicka are suddenly the most interesting and distressing elements of the piece. Dad's apparent dedication to finding a reason to shoot Flicka takes on a genuinely evil sheen (doubtless replacing a "father knows best" implication), while Ken's reluctant kowtowing to the idea that Flicka must be broken at all costs feels like a betrayal of the worst kind.
With a finale that reeks of convenience (a mountain lion becomes the picture's villain with neither set-up nor justification) and a few unintentionally disturbing little-sister lines along the way (picking up a cat: "Even you're a boy...I guess"), My Friend Flicka shows its age while offering up a sort of illusory nostalgia born and bred almost entirely within the cinema experience. The film an exercise in post-modern viewership for the modern audience, one that offers much of its pleasure in our ability to place it within its own golden-hued context. It's not so much a suspension of disbelief, then, as an implementation of culturally-mandated belief and a sort of patronizing snarkiness born of sixty years of similarly bland pabulum rendering such entertainments both comfortable, and comfortably moot.
Fox Family releases My Friend Flicka on DVD in a beautiful full-frame video transfer (preserving the original aspect ratio of the film) that feels sixty-years-old without actually looking it. The colours are deep and rich with that essential filmic quality that comes from an old negative lovingly preserved; fans of My Friend Flicka are in for a treat, and there are few 1943 Technicolor films in this kind of shape on home video. Shadow detail is fine, though a good deal of that is probably attributable to the practice of shooting night scenes during the daytime, though blacks are unarguably pitch. A Dolby 2.0 stereo audio mix is fine, given over for the most part in a reproduction of Newman's score but showing off a nice baby rumble during a key thunderstorm. Trailers for other Fox films Bushwhacked, Far From Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog, and Lucas round out the sparse disc. Originally published: June 5, 2003.