Cast & Crew
Lewis D. Collins
In the Black Hills in 1883, as Sgt. Johnny Wintergreen prepares both himself and a beautiful white stallion, Top Kick, for retirement from the cavalry, he reminisces to young Corp. Thompson about the horse's background: Top Kick is born to homesteaders John and Abigail Light and their twelve-year old son Dan. One day, while Dan fishes, John and Abigail are killed by a band of Indians who burn down their home and release Top Kick. Johnny, who is searching the hills for wild horses to sell to the Army, discovers Dan burying his parents, and brings the boy to the local cavalry post. There, commanding officer Maj. Callan invites Dan to live with him and his young daughter Caroline. Over the next ten years, Dan receives an education at the post school and spends his summers becoming an expert horse tracker, under Johnny's tutelage. Although the two continue to spot Top Kick, who now leads a herd, Dan can never catch the majestic wild stallion. One day, Dan brings a new batch of wild horses to the post, then witnesses Sgt. Keach treating them brutally, and punches him out. That night, during dinner with Callan and Caroline, Johnny reveals that he is quitting tracking to rejoin the cavalry, and Callan, who has now risen to the rank of colonel, urges Dan to join, too. To Caroline's dismay, Dan confesses that he cannot settle down until he catches Top Kick, who represents his last link to his idyllic childhood. The next day, Dan kisses Caroline goodbye before setting off to find his horse. Within days, he comes across a camp of horse trackers and, upon hearing that they are trailing Top Kick's herd, joins them. They soon spot the herd, and when Top Kick splits off, Dan chases him. After a long pursuit, Dan ropes the horse and spends the next four days gently breaking him. As soon as he is able to ride the stallion, however, Top Kick hears his herd and breaks free to rejoin them. Dan is forced to walk back to the post, where Johnny informs him that the ranchers sold the herd, including Top Kick, to the Army. Keach is attempting to break Top Kick, whom Capt. Wilmurt wants for himself. When Top Kick refuses to be ridden, Keach beats the horse, prompting Dan to challenge him to a fight, during which Top Kick breaks free. Dan wins, and although Callan later agrees that Keach must stop his behavior or be transferred, he also insists that Top Kick remain Army property. The colonel offers Dan an assignment to West Point to become a cavalry officer and thus be able to ride Top Kick, but Dan refuses, instead declaring his intent to catch the stallion again. Callan is furious, but Caroline supports Dan's decision. Just then, Top Kick returns to the post and, nudging the corral gate open, releases his herd. Dan joins the patrol to capture them, and the exhausted patrol returns the next day to replenish their supplies, with Dan right behind them atop Top Kick, leading ten captured horses. When Capt. Wilmurt orders Dan to relinquish the horse, Dan flees, followed by a new patrol. Just as the soldiers are leaving, however, Callan redirects them to track down a band of murderous Indians in the hills. That night, Top Kick's whinnying warns Dan that the patrol is nearby. As he is leaving, he notices the Indians releasing the soldiers' horses in preparation for an attack. He shouts down to the patrol, allowing them time to arm themselves, and joins the ensuing gunfight on the cavalry side. The Indians finally retreat, but without their horses, the soldiers are at great risk. Dan volunteers to ride Top Kick back to the fort for help. He races bareback past the Indians, who shoot him. He outruns them but eventually falls from Top Kick's back. When wolves circle them, Top Kick bravely fights them off and then kneels down so Dan can struggle onto his back. The horse brings Dan to the fort, where he weakly informs Callan about the patrol. Days later, Dan recuperates under Caroline's ministrations and is informed by Callan that Top Kick is his, as reward for his bravery. Dan announces that Top Kick, like himself, belongs in the cavalry, causing Callan happily to prepare Dan's appointment to West Point. In the present, just as Thompson accuses Johnny of inventing the whole story, Dan and Caroline enter the stable to take Top Kick away. Johnny hangs his head until Dan orders him to accompany them, and the four leave together for San Francisco.
Lewis D. Collins
I. Stanford Jolley
Wilton R. Holm
Clifford D. Shank
Allen K. Wood
Wild Stallion was an early production from Walter Mirisch, who started his career at Monogram Pictures making low-budget Westerns and action films, most notably the Bomba series that Johnny Sheffield moved into after he ended his run as Boy in the Tarzan films. Mirisch shot the film quickly, during the month of December 1951, with the land around the Corrigan and Iverson Ranches in California standing in for the Black Hills of Wyoming. Even a windstorm that destroyed some of the sets didn't keep him from getting the film into theatres by April 1952.
Like many films from Poverty Row studios like Monogram, Wild Stallion provided a showcase for young actors on the way up though leading man fame may have seemed far away for Johnson at the time he starred in the film. A former cowboy and rodeo champion, he had come to Hollywood as a wrangler when Howard Hughes hired him to transport horses to the locations for The Outlaw (1943). After years of stunt riding for stars like John Wayne and Randolph Scott, he was spotted by John Ford, who promoted him to ever bigger roles in his Cavalry Trilogy and the title role in Wagon Master (1950). Then the two quarreled while making the third Cavalry film, Rio Grande (1950), after Johnson's agent tried to squeeze Ford for more money on an upcoming film. As a result, the director simply stopped working with him, and Johnson's career stalled. He even left Hollywood for a year to work the rodeo circuit. He wouldn't get his career back on track until Ford convinced him to accept the role of Sam the Lion in The Last Picture Show (1971), which won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar®.
Leading lady Martha Hyer went to school with Charlton Heston, Patricia Neal and Cloris Leachman, and, like them, went to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. After being spotted at the Pasadena Playhouse, she started landing film roles, earning her first billing as Tim Holt's leading lady in Thunder Mountain (1947). It wasn't until she signed with Universal, where she was promoted as their answer to Grace Kelly, that the icy blonde started moving up the career ladder. Her biggest success came with a loan to MGM in 1958 to co-star as the frigid English professor thawed by Frank Sinatra in Some Came Running. The role won her an Oscar® nomination, but she had a hard time finding a suitable follow-up in a Hollywood changing rapidly with the decline of the studio system. Instead she found a more satisfying role off-screen as the wife of independent producer Hal Wallis.
Rounding out the cast of Wild Stallion is a trio of reliable character actors caught between the decline of the studio contract system and the rise of television. Edgar Buchanan, co-starring as the horse tracker who trains Johnson, had been a staple of Columbia releases in the '40s, most notably as Cary Grant and Irene Dunne's closest friend in Penny Serenade (1941). He did well as a free-lancer in the '50s, but is best remembered as Uncle Joe on Petticoat Junction. Second-generation actor Hayden Rorke came to Hollywood after years on the stage and was a familiar face on movie screens in the '50s, with small roles in everything from An American in Paris (1951) to Pillow Talk (1959). He entered television history as Captain Bellows, the suspicious commanding officer on I Dream of Jeannie. Hugh Beaumont's role as the captain whose cruelty to Top Kick inspires Johnson's rebellion against the Army was a far cry from his role as Ward Cleaver during six years of Leave It to Beaver, not to mention his training to become a Methodist minister. He had been a film actor for 17 years before landing his most famous role, doing his best work during the war years, when he played leading roles vacated by bigger stars serving in the military. When World War II ended, he returned to supporting roles like the one in Wild Stallion. In 1952, the cast of Wild Stallion was still far from the fame they would achieve in later years. As a result, ads for the film sold not the human characters, but rather the horse. Top Kick was billed as the "UNTAMED KING OF THE WILD OUTLAW HERDS!" and "Outlaw stallion defying man's ruthless guns...battling snarling killer wolves!" Ads also heralded the story as "NATURE IN THE RAW!" -- anything to lure audiences away from their television sets. Hype aside, however, the taglines capture one of the film's evergreen selling points, its focus on one of the animals that helped win the West. In most low-budget Westerns, the love story is of relatively minor importance. In Wild Stallion, it takes center stage, even if it represents a departure from the boy meets girl formula to create a boy meets horse epic.
Producer: Walter Mirisch
Director: Lewis D. Collins
Screenplay: Daniel B. Ullman
Cinematography: Harry Neumann
Art Direction: Martin Obzina
Score: Marlin Skiles
Principal Cast: Ben Johnson (Dan Light), Edgar Buchanan (John Wintergreen), Martha Hyer (Caroline Cullen), Hayden Rorke (Major Cullen), Hugh Beaumont (Captain Wilmurt), Orley Lindgren (Young Dan Light), Elizabeth Russell (Dan's School Teacher).
by Frank Miller
According to a December 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item, some scenes from the film were shot in Ray Corrigan and Iverson Ranches near Los Angeles. The same article stated that wind damage had destroyed some of the sets.