This fact-inspired pic on how the famous Lipizzaner horses of Vienna were brought to safety during the last, chaotic months of WWII ought to be a slam-dunk. After all, it starts like THE SOUND OF MUSIC/’65 (with horses instead of singing Von Trapps) and wraps like THE INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS/’58 (with horses instead of adorable singing Chinese orphans). Alas, as the head of the Spanish Riding Academy of Vienna, Robert Taylor looks stiff & spent, with an alarming dye job, and shows little rapport with either his two or four-footed cast. Worse, Curt Jergens, in support as a sympathetic Austrian officer, shows just how the part should have been played. Actually, for a Walt Disney Production in ‘63, there’s a decent supporting cast (Lili Palmer, Eddie Albert, James Franciscus), nice location stuff and some impressive military gear to go with the battle scenes & miles of horseflesh. But the script just moseys along, moving calmly from one mild incident to the another; no dramatic swing, no pace to the thing, a perfect storm of suspense elements and no one to piece it together. Certainly not Arthur Hiller, a routine Hollywood megger at best who can't even make contact with the horses. And there’s something downright insulting in the kiddie-cues that pass for a music score from Disney house composer Philip J. Smith, to say nothing of the ode to Vienna cooked up by the Brothers Sherman when some of the riding staff gets called to the Front to do their bit for the failing Nazi cause. Positively tone-deaf.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Did Disney have funds stuck in Vienna at the time? ALMOST ANGELS/’62, a fondly remembered film about the Vienna Boys’ Choir, was made just before this, also on location. It’s never been out on DVD. (Or VHS?) Does it hold up? Helmed by Andre Previn’s brother, Steve, and blessedly without a Philip Smith score, it has one of the all-time great plot hooks: one of the scholarship choirboys discovers that his voice is changing. Pure genius.