Thoroughbreds

Two Silent Features by John Ford

Feb 9–23, 2023

Online

Lobby card from Kentucky Pride. 1925. USA. Directed by John Ford

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John Ford’s affinity for horses is, of course, apparent throughout the many Westerns that define his career. His earliest surviving feature, the 1917 Straight Shooting, already finds him deploying one of his signature camera angles, placing his camera in a trench and shooting upwards as the animals seem to leap across the sky.

But Ford’s equine inclinations are also visible in this pair of horse-racing films, Kentucky Pride (1925) and The Shamrock Handicap (1926), both produced by Fox in the 1920s, when the prodigious achievements of Man o’ War were an object of national pride. The little-seen gem Kentucky Pride tells the story of a thoroughbred largely through the point of view of the horse, who casts her animal gaze on the troubled family of Southern aristocrats who own, sell, and eventually reclaim her, as her colt becomes a futurity winner. Screenwriter Dorothy Yost made a specialty of horse stories, including the 1948 Republic favorite The Strawberry Roan. Several celebrated racehorses of the 1920s make cameos, including Man o’ War himself.

The idyllic Ireland of John Ford’s imagination (which culminated in The Quiet Man) makes an early appearance in The Shamrock Handicap, about a down-on-his-luck horse breeder (Lewis Payne) forced to sell most of his stable to an American millionaire. In one of her first films for Fox, Janet Gaynor plays the breeder’s daughter, a sprightly colleen in love with the jockey (Leslie Fenton) who is sent to the states along with the stable. One of the countless films based on the work of popular magazine writer Peter B. Kyne (Three Godfathers), the film, not surprisingly, ends with a race that settles all issues in high style.

Restored from original nitrate elements in MoMA’s collection, the films are presented in high-definition transfers with recreated tinting and piano accompaniment.

Organized by Dave Kehr, Curator, Department of Film.

  • This film series is part of Virtual Cinema.

    Film at MoMA is made possible by CHANEL.

    Additional support is provided by the Annual Film Fund. Leadership support for the Annual Film Fund is provided by Debra and Leon D. Black, with major contributions from The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art, and Karen and Gary Winnick.

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