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The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit DVD Review

The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit movie poster The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit

Theatrical Release: December 20, 1968 / Running Time: 114 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Norman Tokar

Cast: Dean Jones (Frederick Bolton), Diane Baker (Suzie Clemens), Lloyd Bochner (Archer Madison), Fred Clark (Tom Dugan), Ellen Janov (Helen Bolton), Morey Amsterdam (Charlie Blake), Kurt Russell (Ronnie Gardner), Lurene Tuttle (Aunt Martha)

Review by MichaeLeah and Captain Hook The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit was among the first features created by Walt Disney Productions immediately following Mr. Disney’s death. During this era, the studio attempted to make as few alterations to their movie-making process as possible. They adhered to the same formulas that had made live action Disney movies so successful during the first three-quarters of the 1960s. In the tradition of having a major picture released at Christmastime, the studio was poised to release The Horse in the Grey Flannel Suit in 1968.

Based on the silly title, a person would think this movie should be a comedy and that is how the studio promoted it. However, in spite of several parts which are certainly quite funny, the story plays out more like a drama than a comedy. The plot includes two separate stories that are tied together by the titular horse. The first involves Fred Bolton, the human protagonist portrayed by Dean Jones, one of the studio's favorite leading men of the day. A haggard executive at an advertising firm, Fred has to deal with an angry client who has hefty marketing campaign demands for a sour stomach pill called Aspercel. If Fred can't come up with an innovative gimmick quickly, the client is prepared to ditch Fred's firm.

The second storyline revolves around widower Fred's daughter Helen (Ellen Janov), who desperately wants an expensive horse of her own to provide her with some confidence for her equestrian lessons. That is not possible with the Bolton family's tight financial situation, but Fred gets a brilliant idea: call the horse Aspercel, create an ad campaign around it, and satisfy both his boss and his daughter. His daughter would get to ride the horse competitively, but she would have to win to make her father's campaign a success.

Fred has a good idea. Fred and Helen's teacher Suzie meet.

The rest of the film chronicles Helen and Aspercel's various equestrian event adventures, the relationship between Helen and her father, and blossoming romances between Fred and his daughter's beautiful teacher Suzie "S.J." Clemens (Diane Baker) as well as Helen and Ronnie Gardner (teenaged Kurt Russell).

The set of characters within does not easily elicit sympathy. Daughter Helen is a whiny, spoiled girl making one wonder why Ronnie would be attracted to her. Dean Jones has one of his weakest roles in Fred, with the comedic actor's usual family man persona sidelined in favor of a single parent bordering on alcoholism. Fred's romance with S.J. feels forced and his jealousy towards her ex-boyfriend feels like an unneeded subplot.

Furthermore, though the standard Disney formula produced some incredible movies, here it feels tired and boring. Antics with the horse and the dog seem to be worn thin by now, but that wouldn't stop Disney from releasing a slew of other formulaic animal films after Walt's death, some of which actually did work.

The Horse was not very successful in its box office run, which is somewhat amazing considering that the film was billed alongside the Oscar-winning featurette Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.

Buy The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.33:1 Reformatted Fullscreen
Dolby Surround (English)
Subtitles: English
Closed Captioned
Release Date: January 14, 2003
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99 (Reduced from $19.99)
White Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Horse and the Grey Flannel Suit was released to DVD in the 1.33:1 fullscreen format. That is not the original aspect ratio of the film, but it appears to be an open matte transfer, enabling a widescreen television's "zoom" function to estimate the theatrical look. Of course, such action should be unnecessary, had a nice 16x9-enhanced widescreen presentation been offered, but the percentage of vintage live action Disney films treated to such has long been lacking. It is a shame that Disney doesn't make greater efforts to present a film in the dimensions it was framed for.

Aside from the aspect ratio, picture quality is mixed. Colors are very bright and the print isn't too riddled with grain and film imperfections. With a bit of effort, the movie could surely look a lot better, but it's not too bad considering the thrifty approach and a bit better than the VHS equivalent.

In the sound department, there is a Dolby Digital 2.0 track which is basic stereo, though with little detectable channel separation. Nonetheless, the dialogue is consistently understandable and the music is conveyed in a decent fashion, leaving little room for complaint.

BONUS FEATURES

There are no bonus features on this DVD. It would have been neat and logical if Disney had included the original version of Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day on this DVD. It might have helped them to sell more copies and would have enabled a more faithful recreation of its original exhibitions. Alas, Horse is one of the studio's many live action works from the '60s to go supplement-less on disc.

Ronnie (Kurt Russell in one of his earliest Disney roles) asks Helen on a date. "Fred, meet Aspercel. Aspercel, Fred."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

With no extras, a compromised video format and a sterile plot, The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit is one of those DVDs that's tough to recommend. It's not a bad movie and one that many people would probably quite enjoy, especially equine fans. But even with a good story and fine direction from Disney veteran Norman Tokar, the film seems to be missing something. Though the digital presentation doesn't merit much commendation, the comedy, if far from being one of the studio's greatest accomplishments, is a pleasant two-hour diversion worth a rental at the least, either as an indication of the multitude of live action Disney films from this era or as another chance to take in innocuous entertainment from Dean Jones and company.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews

Also Starring Dean Jones:
That Darn Cat! (1965) | The Ugly Dachshund (1966) | The Love Bug (1969)
The Million Dollar Duck (1971) | Snowball Express (1972) | Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977)

Also Featuring Kurt Russell:
Sky High (2005) | Miracle (2004) | The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) | Now You See Him, Now You Don't (1974)
The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968) | Follow Me, Boys! (1966) | The Strongest Man in the World (1975)

Also Directed by Norman Tokar:
The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975) | Savage Sam (1963) | Candleshoe (1978)
The Boatniks (1970) | No Deposit, No Return (1976) | Those Calloways (1965)

Theatrical Accompaniment, 1968
"Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day" (part of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh)

Related Preorders

The Shaggy D.A. (1976): The Canine Candidate Edition (March 7, 2006; Read the Press Release)
The Shaggy Dog (1959): The Wild & Woolly Edition (March 7, 2006; Read the Press Release)

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Reviewed December 31, 2005.