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In 1961, the horse diver, Sonora Webster Carver, wrote a memoir about her life entitled A Girl and Five Brave Horses. 30 years later, Disney released a film based on the memoir entitled Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken. Fortunately, Mrs. Carver was still alive at the time to see the film (she lived a very long life dying in 2003 at the age of 99). I personally hadn’t heard of this film at all until I decided to watch it for this blog. Did it break my heart? Read on to find out!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The film takes place during the Great Depression where we are introduced to our main character, Sonora Webster, played by Gabrielle Anwar. She is in her late teens and lives with her strict aunt in the countryside. She has dreams of becoming famous one day and will do anything she can to achieve that.
Unfortunately, her aunt is unable to keep up with expenses and tells Sonora that she will have to go to an orphanage now. Sonora, knowing that the time is right, instead decides to run away from home and follow her dreams. She comes across an ad in the paper for a Doc Carver at the local county fair looking to hire horse divers.
Although having no experience whatsoever, Sonora heads to the county fair, finds Doc Carver, and tells him how she is going to be his next diving girl! Doc Carver, played by Cliff Robertson, tells her that she’s too young for the position. Unwilling to take no for an answer, Sonora keeps trying to persuade Doc to hire her. Eventually, after seeing how good she is with horses (she had horses on her aunt’s country farm), Doc hires her as a stablehand.
So, Doc and his team head to Virginia for their next performance. Besides Sonora, the team consists of his handsome son, Al, played by Michael Schoeffling, and the current diving girl, Marie, played by Kathleen York.
One day, Al brings home a wild horse that he won in a poker game and he knows that Sonora’s dream is to become a diving girl. So a deal is made where Doc Carver says that he will train Sonora as a diving girl if she can tame the horse AND mount it while it’s moving. Al works with Sonora to help her do these things and after many, many, many failures and falls, Sonora is finally able to mount the moving horse!
Doc Carver is forced to keep his promise and train Sonora although this infuriates Marie who is now jealous of Sonora. After making ridiculous demands to which Doc Carver doesn’t accept, Marie leaves resulting in Sonora being the star of the show.
Meanwhile, Al and Sonora have been getting close with each other and having strong feelings for one another. However, Al and his father have a difficult relationship with each other and one day after an argument, Al packs up and leaves, so it’s just Doc Carver and Sonora now. Al promises Sonora that he will write letters to her though, but Doc Carver pulls a The Notebook stunt and confiscates/gets rid of all the letters that Al sends to Sonora.
As the days go by, Sonora has become the official diving girl for Doc Carver and thoroughly enjoys the act. One day though, Al returns having worked out a contract at Atlantic City for his father to do a 6-month run of his show there. Doc Carver and Sonora are tickled pink by the news and they all set off for Atlantic City. While driving, Doc Carver is about to confess to Sonora the truth about Al’s letters, but doesn’t and actually dies along the way when they all take a rest stop.
So now, Al has become the owner of the show. Once they reach Atlantic City, Sonora finds one of Al’s letters to her in the pocket of one of Doc Carver’s old coats. After reading it, she realizes Al’s love for her and admits her love to him as well. The next time they do a performance, Al proposes to her in front of the audience and she accepts. However, this is soon marked by tragedy when an accident occurs resulting in Sonora’s vision being impaired. She has now been rendered permanently blind.
Sonora is deeply saddened that she can’t dive anymore and Al is forced to rehire Marie as the diving girl so as not to breach the contract with Atlantic City. Sonora, however, is determined to not let blindness ruin her life and tries, along with Al, to train herself to mount horses based on sound and touch alone. Let’s just say, this doesn’t work.
One day, she is willing to try once more! It’s time for the performance and she has a friend lock Marie in her dressing room. While Marie is trapped, Sonora climbs up to the diving board without Al seeing and is ready to mount the horse as it runs towards her. It’s too late to back out now and one wrong move could be detrimental! But, to nobody’s surprise, she miraculously performs the stunt and successfully completes the dive, despite her blindness!
The movie ends with Sonora narrating that she continued to be a diving girl for 11 more years and that she and Al eventually got married and had a great life together.
And that was Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken and it was…umm…an interesting story, at least. I never knew what diving horses were until I saw this movie. The film itself is quite simply executed with a laidback sort of feel to it. A lot of the film was pretty romanticized though. Apparently after watching this film, the real Sonora Webster said that the film only got three things right: she rode diving horses, she went blind, and she continued riding for another 11 years afterwards, lol.
All in all, I don’t really know what to say. If you skip it, you’re not missing anything, but if you decide to watch it, don’t expect an A or B film and you should be fine.
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
So, the final score for this film is 25/35 = 71.43% (C-) !
The next review will be posted on September 4, 2017.