One of the big marketing points of Hidalgo is that it is based on the
real story of a Wild West cowboy action figure, Frank T. Hopkins, who
rode his faithful nag Hidalgo in all sorts of long-distance races and
carried despatches across Injun country in his spare time. The maker’s
claim that it is based on a real story is fair and unarguable in that
it was culled from Hopkins’ autobiography. Be aware: ‘real
story’ is not the same as ‘true story’, and the autobiography
has lately been proven a crock of fiction.
Hidalgo is an old-style adventure yarn. Hopkins who is half Sioux and
who is played by Viggo Mortensen, the sultry sword slinger and closet
king in Lord of the Rings, witnesses the infamous massacre of Wounded
Knee and in disgust joins Barnum and Bailey. What else do you do after
an experience like that?
As a logical consequence, Hopkins is invited to Saudi Arabia to join
the prestigious Ocean of Fire race across three thousand miles of desert.
The Arabs have thoroughbred horses whose pedigrees go back generations
and Hidalgo is only half Arab, and Hopkins is only half white or half
Sioux, so they can’t be that good, can they? Issues pop out of
the sand and then stick their heads right back in.
Only, of course, they are that good, and they tackle the bandits, the
rogues, the assassins, the dastardly sheiks, the seducing princesses
and, worst of all, the evil Brits to … Well, you’ll just
have to guess the outcome.
In the process, Hopkins rescues a damsel from a harem and suffers the
threat of castration. Even Indiana Jones didn’t have to face that
To quibble is unfair. The story and action are pacey and rooted in a
more innocent time of film making. Errol Flynn would have looked great
in this role and, come on, when was the last time you saw a film when
the hero turned down the advances of a attractive woman because he had
a horse to get back to?
Review by Chris Page