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Film / Hidalgo

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"Our culture revolves around our sacred horses."

Hidalgo tells the story of Frank Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen), an American cowboy who was reduced to touring in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild Wild West travelling show. He is the owner of a paint Mustang, Hidalgo, with whom he has an extraordinary bond.

Hopkins is then invited to compete in a famous Arabian race, the Ocean of Fire, three thousand miles across some of the hottest, most forbidding desert in the world. While there he meets Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif), owner of Al-Hattal, the most perfect Arabian horse in the world at that time, who loves tales of the American West; the sheikh's daughter, Jazira (Zuleikha Robinson), who rides like the wind and is not at all the meek Bedouin woman she pretends to be, and who is promised to the Prince riding Al-Hattal; Lady Anne Davenport (Louise Lombard), owner of a gray Arabian mare whom she wishes to breed with Al-Hattal; and Prince Bin Al Reeh (Saïd Taghmaoui), who wants Al-Hattal - and Jazira - for his own.

Hidalgo has chases, shootouts, rescues, and triumphs over unbelievable odds. It is anything but a true story, but, to quote Roger Ebert, "... if you do not have some secret place in your soul that still responds even a little to brave cowboys, beautiful princesses and noble horses, then you are way too grown up and need to cut back on cable news. And please ignore any tiresome scolds who complain that the movie is not really based on fact. Duh."

Contains Examples Of:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: The sheikh beheads a raider without any particular effort.
  • Artistic License / Based on a Great Big Lie / Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Take your pick. For "loosely based", even Frank Hopkins didn't claim he romanced a sheik's daughter. For "artistic license", they fiddled with geography a fair bit for the sake of drama. As for the "great big lie", well, basically everyone but Frank Hopkins says he was never even within a continent of the race. Which, according to Arab consultants, never existed either.
  • Been There, Shaped History: The film's Frank carried the message that resulted in the Wounded Knee Massacre, became the star of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and basically made the government declare the Mustang horse a protected species.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Frank is no one to mess with if you hurt Hidalgo, as Katib learns the hard way.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Hopkins and Hidalgo win the race. They then return to America where Hopkins sets Hidalgo free, along with hundreds of other mustangs, into the American plains.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Numerous mooks, Native-Indians, and extras actually die first, but the Nubian servant Jaffa is the first significant (named) character to kick the bucket.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Averted during the camp raid. Frank runs out while being charged by a sword-wielding raider after exactly six shots (three by the sheikh and three by himself).
  • Boring, but Practical: A raider pulls out a badass-looking sword. Frank pulls a knife. The raider finds this hilarious... until Frank throws the knife into his chest, killing him instantly.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Jazira telling Frank that grasshoppers are a gift from heaven.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Frank stops the sheikh from executing Aziz so he can torture the whereabouts of Jazira from him with "Western justice": stabbing him in the throat with spurs and throttling him with a lasso.
  • Cool Horse: Lots and lots of them. Watch for the smaller horses who raise their tails up high as they move; they are the genuine article.
  • Deadly Dust Storm: One of the many obstacles faced by the contestants.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Frank becomes an alcoholic to deal with his guilt after the fiasco at Wounded Knee.
  • Evil Brit: No British character in this film is honest.
  • Eunuchs Are Evil: Inverted, with Jaffa.
    Aziz His excellency is most reckless, sending a slave with no [balls] to do a man's job.
    Jaffa Know this, Aziz. If any harm has befallen the child, I shall remove your head myself.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Lady Anne Davenport (Louise Lombard) wears some simply stunning Victorian riding outfits.
  • Groin Attack: After being seen in the tent with Jazira, Frank is told that he "will be removed of his infidel self." Fortunately Frank stalls for time.
  • Guilt Complex: With a side of Survivor Guilt. Frank, himself half Sioux Indian, carried the orders that led to the Wounded Knee massacre, and was there to see the aftermath. He's living in a bottle and "don't even know who Frank Hopkins is anymore" the next time we see him.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: Frank had a white father and a Native American mother. As a result, he said he didn't know where he belonged.
    • Which, of course, is also symbolized in the disdain people show for Mustangs for being non-thoroughbreds.
  • Handshake Refusal: Sheikh Riyadh refuses to shake Frank's hand, which is explained as if he were to touch an infidel, he would lose his ability to predict the future.
    • After Frank wins the race, Sheikh Riyadh proudly offers to shake Frank's hand.
    Frank: What about your ability to tell the future?
    Sheikh Riyadh: If I had the ability to foretell the future, perhaps I would have bet on a painted horse.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: And it serves him jolly well right — A bandit ends up in his own Punji Pit.
  • Hope Spot: A villianous example. When Katib realizes he's standing on his own trap, Frank gets out his rope, and Katib clearly thinks Frank is going to help him. Instead, he triggers the trap and Katib falls to his death.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The sheikh tries using Frank's six-gun during the raid. He accidentally fires one into the ground and misses the others by a wide margin, clearly not knowing how to shoot a pistol. On the other hand...
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Frank manages to shoot the rifle out of Katib's hand, hit the ground by the feet of the well guard while shooting backwards and riding away, and hit one of Katib's men while shooting up without looking.
  • Jerkass: Prince Bin Al Reeh isn't one of the main villains nor in league with them, but repeatedly talks down to Frank on account of his being American and tries to scare him out of the race, bribes British soldiers to deny him water at the well, and runs away during a raider attack (though to be fair, he does it to save the object of the raid, Al-Hattal, and the sheikh praises him for it). Jazira, who's to become his fifth wife, has a very low opinion of him. He gets better when Frank wins the race, congratulating him and praising Hidalgo's skill.
    • Averted with Prince Sakkar, who starts out like this but also warms up to Frank after he rescues him from quicksand, and dies fighting by his side.
  • Klatchian Coffee: The sheikh offers Frank Turkish coffee, claiming foreigners think it's too strong. Frank downs it like a shot, claiming cowboy coffee isn't done until a horseshoe can stand up in the pot.
  • Magical Native American: Chief Eagle Horn in Buffalo Bill's show (played by Floyd Red Crow) could qualify. They get away with it because he's giving advice to Frank as an Indian elder traditionally advises a younger man.
  • Mercy Kill: One of the racers ends up doing this to his own horse after it's injured and can't travel anymore.
  • Mighty Whitey: Two counts: First, Hopkins comes to be seen as a champion of the Native Americans (perhaps forgivable, as he is indeed half-Indian, and on an Indian horse). Second, the entire premise is that he beats the Arabians and the Bedouins at their own race, on their own land, against their champion riders and horses. And also has to bat off the sheikh's daughter, to boot.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Most noticeably when Frank first sees the sandstorm and when the sheikh tells him he's going to be castrated.
    • Katib, when he realizes that Frank is going to trigger the trap he's on.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Frank remembers he is this just when his fighting skills are needed.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Frank says "Nobody hurts my horse" before he sends Katib falling into his own trap.
  • Quicksand Sucks: Averted. The Prince is thrown from his horse and ends up neck-deep in a quicksand. He stays there for hours, solemnly waiting to die of thirst. Frank rescues him, however.
  • Save the Princess: The horse riding, headstrong princess still ends up playing this trope straight.
  • Save the Villain: Defied. It looks like Frank is going to help Katib when he lands on one of his own traps, but after what he did to Hidalgo, Frank is in no mood to show mercy, instead activating the trap completely and sending Katib to his death.
  • Scenery Porn: The views of the Arabian landscape and especially the extremely colorful sunsets over the desert definitely count as this.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: The Sheik's jailer who tries to cut Frank loose during the raider attack shreiks at the top of his lungs once the sheikh beheads one of the raiders
  • Shoo the Dog: Played straight at the end of the movie and surprisingly without angst. Yes folks, sometimes horses do just walk away.
  • Shown Their Work: On the basis that Frank was supposed to be part Indian (some Indian people have apparently verified that he was — his name was Kaiyuzeya Sunkanyanke, "Far Rider"), the filmmakers employed Lakotah extras and consultants, holy men and elders to make sure these parts of the story were accurate. Screenwriter John Fusco also wrote Thunderheart, which also used Lakotah actors, extras and consultants. The (actual) Ghost Dancers in Hidalgo are the same ones seen dancing in Thunderheart.
    • Averted afterward. Later DNA testing showed that Hopkins had no Indian blood: specifically, one of his descendants was tested and showed no markers indicating Native heritage. Perhaps, like many white people, he was adopted or accepted as a tribal member note .
  • Spikes of Doom: A spiked trap shows up at one point.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Played for Laughs in the start of the Ocean of Fire race. The riders all take off at a gallop after the starting gunshot, whooping and screaming... and slow down to a walk as soon as the spectators can't see them. This is an ENDURANCE race, not a sprint, and the sudden drop in speed evokes an Anti-Climax Cut.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: Frank tells Katib this before sending him into his own trap: "Nobody hurts my horse."
  • Tranquil Fury: Frank is deadly calm when he takes his revenge on Katib.
  • Truth in Television: The subplot about the careful breeding of al-Khamsa Arabian horses is real. That little record book used as the MacGuffin in the big kidnap plot is real too. It contains the al-Khamsa breeding record and is worth the price of every horse in that race, plus the prize money and the extra $10,000 for Frank's gun. Davenport Arabians, descended from these bloodlines, also exist, although the real Davenport was a male American artist, not a spoiled British lady aristocrat.
    • Lady Davenport also appears to be a nod to or an Expy of Lady Anne Blunt, who genuinely was the driving force responsible for the al-Khamsa or "asil" Crabbet Arabian line. She was one of the first Europeans to encounter Bedouin tribes, which she wrote about extensively. In real life she ended up buying starved horses from a bankrupt stud in Egypt, which is considerably less exciting than the movie's portrayal.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The story is based closely on tales told by the real life Frank Hopkins about his life and was marketed as Based on a True Story. The real life Frank Hopkins is now believed to have made the whole thing up.
  • What a Piece of Junk: Of the equine variety. Hidalgo's pinto coat and feral mustang bloodline invites derision from competitors, who assume only pure-bred Arabian horses can possibly survive the endurance race. Having been "bred" for hardiness by the unforgiving conditions of America's own arid wilderness, the wild-born Hidalgo beats both the desert and his rivals.