#76 in my ranking of John Ford’s filmography.
I’m not sure where the idea of telling this story from the perspective of the horse came from, but I’m not entirely sure it was in the plan from the inception. Kentucky Pride tells the story of the life of a female racehorse from her birth through to the success of her daughter on the racetrack, but the intertitles that mostly speak from her point of view feel almost like an afterthought to me. It may have been planned, but it ends up so oddly executed that I’m open to the idea that it was an intertitle writer going off the deep end.
The horse in question is named Virginia’s Future, a prized racehorse from the day she was born in the stables of the rich gambler Robert Beaumont (Henry Walthall) and handled by the chief trainer, Mike Donovan (J. Farrell MacDonald). One of the problems with the film’s effort to emotionally connect with Virginia’s Future is that she’s very often hard to point out. Her childhood is spent in the bluegrass fields of Kentucky, and she’s one of a team prancing around, almost never seen alone. Even when she begins training, she’s one in a line of about ten. The only time she’s really alone is the first time she’s on a track.
Another weird thing about telling the story from Virginia’s Future’s point of view is that she often describes things she could never see. She describes, in the intertitles from her point of view, the household arrangements of the Beaumont house over a dinner party. Most importantly is the introduction of Robert’s wife (Gertrude Astor), his second wife and step-mother to his daughter Virginia (Peaches Jackson). Mrs. Beaumont has little love for anything to do with her husband, most likely having married him for money, and she’s obviously having an affair with another man.
Mr. Beaumont puts everything on Virginia’s Future’s first race (a race that’s completely incomprehensible visually because of the limits of black and white silent filmmaking at the time), but the horse collapses at the finish line. Everything up to this point has been a weird amalgamation of stilted storytelling and unsuccessful emotional engagement with a horse we can barely make out. Things seem to turn a corner when Mr. Beaumont, broke, leaves his home and drops off Virginia with the Donovans. Mrs. Beaumont takes over and decides that Virginia’s Future needs to be put down and the rest of the horses sold to make up for Mr. Beaumont’s debts. Mike can’t quite do it, hiding her away until he can sell her for a few thousand dollars as a breeding animal.
The story moves forwards in odd fits and starts, jumping ahead in time and providing most of the explanation through intertitles (again, explaining things from the horse’s point of view that the horse couldn’t know) to show that Donovan becomes a police officer, Virginia’s Future has her baby (Confederacy) and then gets sold as a workhorse, and Donovan meets up with a destitute Mr. Beaumont at the racetrack. Describing all of this, I realize that there could have been a compelling story here centered around the life of a horse, failing, and then seeing success in new ways, but the way this story is told is so halting and in fractured slices that nothing really connects. It feels like squeezing a longer story into 70 minutes. Another twenty minutes and removing the perspective of the horse from the intertitles would have probably done the film a fair bit of good.
The only part where this movie shines is in some visual moments. There’s a bit when Donovan is waiting for the right moment to bring out Virginia’s Future to sell her where he and two other hands walk back in forth in an alternative pattern that’s fairly amusing. There’s a fight scene later that involves Donovan trying to get Virginia’s Future back that’s energetically filmed and clear. But that’s about it. The movie’s too broken up into tiny pieces to get a real grasp of the story, it’s often hard to tell where our main character is in a scene, especially during the races, and nothing really connects emotionally. This was not a good movie.