Coming on the hoofs of Seabiscuit (2003), the film Hidalgo is the second film in a year that celebrates a longsuffering nonthoroughbred horse. Hidalgo purports to be about a Spanish Mustang stallion named Hidalgo, which wins a race against 100 Arabian thoroughbreds over some 3,000 miles across the Arabian Desert from Aden to Damascus. In actuality, most of the story jazzes up the life of Frank T. Hopkins (played by Viggo Mortensen), who was born in 1865 of a Caucasian father and a Sioux mother, worked as a Pony Express courier, and later performed in Buffalo Bill’s “wild west” roadshow. When the film begins, Hopkins observes the effects of the senseless and unprovoked Wounded Knee Massacre on December 28, 1890, which tragically begins when a deaf Native American fails to hear the command to surrender his rifle. One day, the legendary Hopkins’s reputation as a winner of some 400 long-distance races attracts the attention of a sheik from Arabia, who is eager to back a winner in the Arabian desert competition. (According to the sheik, the race presumably has been held for each of a thousand or so years, but that is just one fabrication to add color to the movie’s adventure fantasy.) In any case, the prospect of a large purse from the race encourages Hopkins to go to Arabia with his faithful half-breed Hidalgo. Most of the film then focuses on the race, the landscape, and the competitors, but the hero is no Hopkins of Arabia. Women in the film are treated badly by the Arabs, who in turn are cast insensitively and stereotypically. Lady Anne Davenport (played by Louise Lombard), who hires an Arabian to foul up the chances of all horses but the one on which she has placed her bet, tries to seduce Hopkins, but he is more interested in Princess Jazira (played by Zuleikha Robinson). However, single Arab women are not allowed to have liaisons with single men, so Sheik Riyadh (played by Omar Sharif) contemplates carrying out the traditional punishment of castration until he learns that Hopkins once worked for Buffalo Bill; Hopkins is then allowed to proceed and wins the race despite the severe conditions of the desert and the treachery carried out on behalf of Lady Davenport. When Hopkins finally returns to South Dakota, he learns to his chagrin that twenty-seven Congressional Medals of Honor have been awarded to be those committing mass murder at Wounded Knee and that the Mustangs of the Native Americans have been given a death sentence. Hopkins quickly pulls strings and evidently uses his prize money to buy the freedom for the Mustangs, whose descendants according to a title at the end of the film are still allowed to roam free at Blackjack Mountain, Oklahoma. At the end, Hopkins dismounts from Hidalgo, to let him join the Mustangs; the horse turns around for a last loving look at Hopkins and then joins the herd, similar to the liberation in Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002). Hidalgo, directed by Joe Johnston, claims to be based on a true story but is mostly fictional; a more apt title would be “The Legend of Frank Hopkins,” which could then correctly refer to an oral history by a Blackfoot chief. MH

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