As a child I never read much nor was I read to much as both my parents worked, I say this not in search of pity but to explain that I have never read Anna Sewell's classic "Black Beauty". And whilst I know the name my only real knowledge of the story comes from watching the later 1994 version. Maybe that is why having now watched this 1971 version which features Mark Lester and Walter Slezak I can't say I am that impressed in fact I find this 1971 quite bland. Don't get me wrong as visually it is beautiful and director James Hill whose previous works include the brilliant "Born Free" has created a nice looking movie but the actual story ends up bland and uninteresting coming across as little more than a collection of stories with different characters and just Black Beauty tenuously linking them.
Whilst his father Farmer Evans (Eddie Golden) is at the bank it is up to young Joe (Mark Lester) to tend to the pregnant mare Duchess and whilst he cares for she gives birth to a foal which he names Beauty. But Farmer Evans is suffering hard times and when the kindly Squire passes away his nasty son Sam (Patrick Mower) takes over the estate and forces Evans to sell up including Beauty. But not only is the young Squire nasty to horses he is also a gambler and a drunk who after betting and losing the farm dies riding home leaving Beauty to wander until a travelling gypsy finds him. Over the years Beauty finds himself with a variety of owners and in various situations around the world.
Here is the problem with this 1971 version of "Black Beauty" it has absolutely no soul what so ever and this story about a horse and what he encounters needs soul. Because of this and because Beauty is treated purely as animal and not a character all we get is a collection of episodes with no real emotion. We see Beauty with the vicious Squire, then performing in a circus in Spain and various other adventures but they end up bland because they lack personality. It basically needs Beauty to be a character in order to connect these stories more and make us feel compassion for the horse and what he goes through rather than just trying to entertain through set pieces such as Uschi Glas as Marie riding Beauty in the circus.
The upshot of this is that "Black Beauty" whilst a beautiful looking movie with director James Hill treating us to some nice looking shots with a nice musical soundtrack ends up feeling like a movie made to give actors work. Unfortunately because of the episodic nature of the story none of the actors really get to build a character with maybe the exception of Mark Lester who dominates the first 20 minutes as young Joe. Like with the general style of the movie the characters end up being just visually entertaining such as Uschi Glas as the beautiful Marie Hackenschmidt or Patrick Mower as the vicious young Squire.
What this all boils down to is that this version of "Black Beauty" is disappointing because it is a soulless movie which just feels like a series of episodes loosely connected by Beauty who is portrayed purely as a horse rather than a character.