Roddy McDowall, some very appealing horses, and skillful, if sometimes over-intense, technicolor have been thrown together in a game attempt to make "Thunderhead" palatable entertainment, but even Hollywood has no antidote for poor writing, miscasting, and haphazard direction. While horse fanciers and McDowall enthusiasts may thrill to "Thunderhead," the more critical will probably--and properly--consider it a mass of mistakes.
The perpetually wistful expression and querulous British accents that marked McDowall's success in "Lassie Comes Home" hardly blend into a background of ranch life. In spite of his undeniable ability, his unable to act convincingly as a rugged and rural American youth. A Swedish hired hand, left over from Mary O'Hara's book, seems equally out of place. The best characterization of the entire movie was turned in by a horse, whose name we do not remember seeing in the cast of players but whose role was nevertheless the longest and most complex.
Miss O'Hara's story of the son of Flicka, heroine of an earlier production, should by all rights have made fascinating movie fare. In the novel, as indeed in the picture, Thunderhead is an equine throwback to his outlaw grandparent. The story is of a rancher's son who tries to win the horse to the ways of man, who fails, but dramatically grows up in the process.
In their perverted zeal to record all the trivialities of a good sized book on less than two hours of celluloid, a crew of incompetent scenarists neglected completely the compelling, warmly emotional drama of the situation and turned out an aimless documentary on horse raising.