Cast & Crew
Mickey is a stable boy for Lady Q, a race horse that has the potential to be a champion. When drunken bum Tom Terry brusquely moves into the stable with him, they are constantly at odds. Because Lady Q loses a big race, her owner plans to sell her to the glue factory, but Mickey buys her with his meager savings. Mickey learns from Tom that Lady Q has a tumor on her foot, and discovers that the derelict was once a brilliant veterinarian. Mickey convinces Tom to operate on Lady Q, and despite his alcoholic shakes, the operation is succcessful. The two take the horse on the road, and soon become very close. Because Mickey is an orphan, he suggests that they "legally" adopt each other. Tom is reluctant, but soon agrees and the two plan to enter Lady Q in a big race. To make money for the entrance fee, they stay at a farm owned by five-time widow Beulah Flanders. When they have almost earned the entrance fee, Tom, who is now a sober and devoted father, tells Mickey to go to the track to get an application blank. While there, Mickey runs into detective Barney Donovan, who reveals that Tom is wanted for his part in the death of a horse and jockey in a fixed race. When Mickey returns to the farm, he pretends that he doesn't care for Tom anymore, strikes him, and leaves with the horse. The next day he is able to get the money he needs by impressing Mrs. Shepherd, a stable owner. Lady Q develops a sore hoof, though, and is only saved by Tom, who arrives with a special shoe for her. Mickey finally confesses that it was his fear for Tom that made him act as if he didn't care, and the two realize that they are truly father and son. Tom is supposed to leave right away to avoid capture, but instead watches Mickey win the race. Although he now has enough money to become a veterinarian, like his father, Mickey is heartbroken when Donovan apprehends Tom. The two have an emotional farewell, but Mickey is relieved when Mrs. Shepherd tells him that Tom will serve no more than a year in jail.
James C. Morton
W. Donn Hayes
Edwin B. Willis
The film is a tearjerker punctuated by comedy -- essentially a reworking of The Champ (1931) set at a racetrack, with Wallace Beery as a down-and-out vet who strikes up a warm yet rocky friendship with an orphaned stable boy played by Mickey Rooney. (His role was originally meant for Judy Garland.) Rooney manages to buy a good-for-nothing horse named Lady Q and convinces Beery to operate on her, turning the horse into a winner. Meanwhile, Beery and Rooney develop a father-son relationship. But will the police catch up to Beery, who is wanted for horse-doping and causing the death of a racer? Margaret Hamilton is also in the mix, lending good comic support as a five-time widow.
Variety called this picture "a B-budgeter of A-quality" and praised director Sam Wood's pacing "for proper see-sawing of dramatic tension and sentiment."
But The New York Times, in flowery prose, mused on the most interesting aspect of the production, the casting of the two leads: "We doubt if any other two stablemates in Hollywood could have translated the horsy hokum of such a plot into the fine professional sentimentality that causes handkerchiefs to break out like signals presaging the storm of embarrassed nose-blowing that is to follow.... Mickey turns on the tears, the laughs, the hysterics, at will, just like the perfect little screen virtuoso he is.... Anybody who can just break even before a camera with the invincible Beery is good, and Mickey, full of the fire of youth, even gets a shade the best of the encounter."
Stablemates also features a cameo by a very famous public figure of the day: the race horse Seabiscuit. Producer Harry Rapf arranged to film the actual 1938 Hollywood Gold Cup horse race for use in the film. Seabiscuit won it. Incidentally, this was the inaugural running of the Hollywood Gold Cup, which is still one of the most prestigious horse races on the west coast.
The film is also an early credit for screenwriter Richard Maibaum, who would go on to great fame as the most prolific writer of James Bond movies, right up to his death in 1991. Maibaum wrote (or co-wrote) the scripts for thirteen of the first sixteen Bond films.
Producer: Harry Rapf
Director: Sam Wood
Screenplay: Richard Maibaum, Leonard Praskins (writers); Reginald Owen, William Thiele (story)
Cinematography: John Seitz
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Edward Ward
Film Editing: W. Donn Hayes
Cast: Wallace Beery (Doc Thomas 'Tom' Terry), Mickey Rooney (Michael 'Mickey'), Arthur Hohl (Mr. Gale), Margaret Hamilton (Beulah Flanders), Minor Watson (Barney Donovan), Marjorie Gateson (Mrs. Shepherd), Oscar O'Shea (Pete Whalen).
by Jeremy Arnold
The big race was actually the entire 1938 $50,000 Hollywood Gold Cup race won by Seabiscuit.
A Hollywood Reporter news item on June 25, 1938 reported that Judy Garland was initially planned as the star of this film. According to information in the film's press pack, Hollywood Park, CA was used as a location for some of the film's sequences, although parts had to be duplicated on the M-G-M backlot because filming was only allowed two days a week at the racetrack. Also mentioned was the fact that the "straight race" in the film was actually the entire 1938 $50,000 Hollywood Gold Cup race, won by the world-famous horse Seabiscuit. A news item in Hollywood Reporter noted that three other California racetracks were also used for some additional location shooting: Santa Anita, Del March and Tanforan. According to another news item in Hollywood Reporter, jockeys Burl Tatum, Lyle Brown, Jackie Howard, Clyde Kennedy, Ed Kelly and Bill Gaffney were also in the cast, but their participation in the completed film has not been confirmed. Wallace Beery and Mickey Rooney recreated their roles for a Lux Radio Theatre Broadcast on March 31, 1941.