Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Annette Funicello and Janet Munro Go Horse Jumping!

A "good condition" VHS tape of The Horsemasters goes for about $170. That's not bad for a 1961 two-part episode of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color that was released theatrically as a motion picture in Europe. The popularity of The Horsemasters among video collectors has nothing to do with the quality of the film. It's all about the cast--but more about that later.

The plot follows eight youths enrolled in an intensive training program at the Valleywood Riding School in England. Their goal is to become "horsemasters," which apparently requires that you know everything about caring for and riding horses. The students spend the first few weeks doing nothing but cleaning stables, grooming horses, and learning about them. Eventually, though, they do to get to ride and jump their steeds. The training program ends with a riding exam and a written test.

Much of The Horsemasters unfolds like a documentary as we follow the kids during their daily routine. The first half, which was subtitled "Follow Your Heart" for TV, focuses on Dinah Wilcox (Annette Funicello). Her mother was a famous equestrian whose career was cut short after being thrown from her horse. As a result, Dinah has to overcome her fear of jumping.

Annette Funicello, Tommy Kirk, and Millicent Martin.
The film's second half, known on TV as "Tally Ho," centers on first-time Valleywood instructor Janet Hale (Janet Munro). She struggles to gain the respect of her pupils while instilling discipline in them. She gets minimal advice from The Major (who owns the school): "People are like horses, Janet. If you don't ride them, they'll ride you." It doesn't help that there are romantic sparks between her and the handsome lad from Australia (John Fraser).

The Horsemasters is modestly interesting without ever being engrossing. It doesn't help that the film ends abruptly with the new graduates riding over a hill during a fox hunt.

Annette.
Still, the reason to watch this film is for the cast. Annette Funicello was pretty much at the peak of her Disney stardom (and two years away from the Beach Party series). Her subplot in Horsemasters pairs her with Tommy Kirk, who was also a big Disney star at the time. Walt teamed the two frequently and they became good friends. After leaving Disney in 1963, Kirk signed with American-International Pictures and co-starred with Annette again in 1964's Pajama Party. (Kirk subsequently returned to Disney for two more films, including The Monkey's Uncle with Annette.)

Janet Munro.
Janet Munro appeared in four Disney films, the other three being Darby O'Gill and the Little People, Third Man on the Mountain, and Swiss Family Robinson. Although she frequently played tomboy roles, she could also turn on the sex appeal, as she showed in the excellent science fiction film The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961). She died from heart disease in 1972 at age 38.

The remaining cast members include: Donald Pleasence, Jean Marsh (Upstairs, Downstairs), and Millicent Martin (Daphne's mother on Frasier).

9 comments:

  1. I've never heard of this movie. I'm bet it's known mostly for being an Annette movie, but I'd be interested in seeing it for Janet Munro. She graced every movie she was in and should have been a big star. She deserved better roles and it's sad that she died so young.

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  2. That is sad. She always lit up the screen. I always picture her riding the train in "The Crawling Eye/Trollenberg Terror."

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    1. I wish Disney had given Janet Munro better roles. She was delightful opposite Sean Connery in DARBY O'GILL.

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  3. This film is long overdue on high quality dvd. Both Annette and Janet Munro are both beautiful and delightful in the film.

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  4. I'm Ernie Garcia and I run facebook's Annette and Teen Idols and this film is long overdue on dvd. Both Annette and Janet Munro are delightful in this film.

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    1. Ernie, I love your FB page. You always have some great pics on it!

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  5. Annette and Janet together in a Disney vehicle? My nephew would love this!

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  6. The Metzinger SistersAugust 29, 2015 at 10:40 PM

    I enjoyed watching this film ( found a DVD version a few years ago ) but, like many of the made-for-tv Disney movies, I felt it lacked the polish that his feature films had. If only this movie had the sparkle that Third Man on the Mountain possessed, it would be a real winner. On a side note, I'd like to see a review of The Adventures of Gallagher if you are able to view the series. ;-) Love your Disney reviews!

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    1. I'd love to see the GALLEGHER episodes, They were out only in the expensive limited edition DVDs by Disney.

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