Every critic has a director -- recently deceased-- whom they wish to God was still alive. For me, it's Robert Mulligan.
This is a 10-minute montage I've created in honor of Mulligan that includes pics from each and every one of his films. It also includes the music from To Kill A Mockingbird, The Stalking Moon, Summer of '42, The Other and Same Time, Next Year.
The clip from 8 Simple Rules at the very beginning is the one I'm most proudest to include here, since Ritter's little homage to Mulligan (who cast him in a minor role in The Other) would have been all-too-easily missed by viewers who normally watched that show.
Before I conclude my summaries of War Horse, I'd like to show everyone the new trailer that was posted today:
This trailer is a huge improvement over the last one, in my opinion. It's more visceral and tragic.
But without further to do...
As Joey walks around the battlefield, he is cheered on and beckoned by both sides. Eventually, a German in a gray uniform and a Welshman in a khaki uniform both advance towards Joey before regarding each other with silence for some moments. They decide to determine Joey's fate over a coin toss, and the Welshman wins. Proud that they have been able to resolve the matter peacefully, the Welshman remarks that if more people were like this, the war would be over faster. To which the German replies, "If we did it that way, then it would be our turn to win. And maybe your Lloyd George would not like that."
Due to his wounded leg, Joey enters the Welsh army gravely ill. When he is greeted by a group of excited soldiers in a stable, a large, mustached sergeant tells them to mind their own business and get back to work. Then, when the sergeant orders one soldier to get Joey cleaned up for "Major Martin", to the point where "you could use him as a shaving mirror," the unseen soldier replies, "Yes, Sergeant" -- and Joey recognizes the voice.
It is Albert. Although Albert begins talking to Joey about the horse he lost in the war, he does not seem to recognize Joey. Then Albert's friend David enters the scene and helps clean Joey up; he is all too familiar with Albert's horse stories. But when David takes a close look at Joey for himself, he realizes it may be him. Though Albert thinks it's a joke, David declares, "Berty... I'm not teasing, honest I'm not. Not now."
Once David describes Joey's features, Albert circles around Joey and looks into his eyes. "Joey?" To make sure it is really him, Albert walks to the gateway and whistles in his familiar owl whistle, somehow freeing the pain in Joey's leg for an instant. And Joey trots toward him and buries his nose in his shoulder.
"It's him, David," Albert said, putting his arms around my neck and hanging on to my mane. "It's my Joey. I've found him. He's come back to me just like I said he would."
"See?" said David wryly. "What did I tell you? See? Not often wrong, am I?"
"Not often," Albert said. "Not often, and not this time."
Despite the constant monitoring of Albert, Major Martin and Sergeant "Thunder", Joey does not get better. He has bad forelegs and loses his appetite. Even the sight of Albert makes him flinch. Major Martin suspects that shrapnel wounds have affected Joey terminally and that nothing can be done for him. For it seems as though Joey has been stricken with tetanus, or "lockjaw".
Though the major and sergeant suggest Joey be euthanized, David reminds them that a horse is just important as any soldier in the cavalry. The sergeant orders David not to talk back to them, though the major knows he means well. But Albert and David vow to help Joey in any way they can, and their wish is granted.
To save Joey, they have to put his legs in a sling, keep in a whisper around him, make him a bed of straw, keep him in the dark and feed him only oatmeal and milk. As the days pass, Joe's pain spreads, but he is kept alive by Albert's presence.
Finally, on a winter night, Joey's pain in his throat loosens, and he is able to neigh again, waking up Albert. "Was that you, Joey?"
The entire regiment is amazed, and soon Joey is walking again. The pain in his back is gone.
"You've done it, Joey. You've done it. Everyone says the war's going to be over soon -- I know we've been saying that for a long time, but I feel it in my bones this time. It'll be finished before long, and then we'll both be going home, back to the farm. I can't wait to see the look on Father's face when I bring you back up the road. I just can't wait."
Joey may be healed, but the war is not over yet. Albert and Major Martin go back into the battlefields with him, and he is used as the lead horse in the tandem team. David predicts that the war could be over by Christmas as long as the "Yankees" do a little more to help.
Albert likes to talk to Joey about his sweetheart up in the village, Maisie Brown, who "bakes bread like you've never tasted before," and who has "eyes as blue as cornflowers, hair as gold as ripe corn, and her skin smells like honeysuckle -- except when she first comes out of the dairy. I keep away from her then." He says that although Maisie Brown cried for Albert when he volunteered to go to war, she was the only one who believed he was right to want to go find Joey.
They receive news one evening that David has been killed by a stray shell. According to Albert, David was once a manager of a fruit cart in London, outside Covent Garden. "There's just you and me left now, Joey," mourns Albert, "and I tell you we're going to get home, both of us.* I'm going to ring that tenor bell again in the church, I'm going to eat my Maisie's bread and pastries, and I'm going to ride you down by the river again. David always said he was somehow sure that I'd get home, and he was right. I'm going to make him right."
There is not much celebration when the war finally does end. People seem more relieved than overjoyed that it is over. Albert still appears to be unhappy over David's death. Major Martin announces that everyone might be home by Christmas, but Sergeant Thunder asks whether the horses will go home on the same boat as them. To which the major replies, "No, Sergeant... I'm afraid the horses won't be coming with us at all." Instead, the horses will stay in France. Because most of the horses are sick and can't really be looked after, they are to be sold at a courtyard auction, which can only mean one thing: they will be sold off to butchers and chopped up into meat.
Albert's voice rang out across the yard. "What, all of them, sir? Every one of them? Even Joey that we brought back from the dead? Even him?"
Major Martin said nothing, but turned on his heel and walked away.
Sergeant Thunder rallies up a conspiracy amongst his fellow soldiers to raise money to save Joey for Albert. Coins are collected in a small tin box. The sergeant reveals that this is actually the major's idea, but cautions the soldiers not to speak of it to anyone. Allegedly, the major has even "given us every penny of his pay that he had saved up -- every penny."
Albert realizes he can no longer promise Joey that he'll save him from certain death. He thinks only God can help them now. "I remember old Miss Wirtle telling me once in Sunday school back home: 'God helps those that helps themselves,'" Albert remembers. "Mean old devil she was, but she knew her scriptures well enough." The next day, Albert leads Joey into the courtyard auction. He is the last horse to be brought out.
When the price on Joey's head raises, the only two people left bidding are Sergeant Thunder and"a thin, wiry little man with weasel eyes who wore on his face a smile so full of greed and evil that I could hardly bear to look at him." The bid eventually rises to twenty-seven pounds, at which the sergeant realizes he cannot pay for Joey. The greedy man -- Monsieur Cirac, a butcher from Cambrai -- has been buying horses all morning, and it seems as though he will have Joey, too.
Then, "a white-haired old man leaning heavily on his stick", whom Joey recognizes after some hesitation, bids twenty-eight pounds. Declaring that Joey is "my Emilie's horse", the man declares he will bid 100 pounds if he needs to.
No one said a word. The butcher from Cambrai shook his head and turned away. Even the auctioneer had been stunned into silence, and there was some delay before he brought his hammer down on the table and I was sold.
Although the major and the sergeant are speaking privately to the old Frenchman, Albert is not convinced that Joey is falling into a safe pair of hands. His friends try to console him, insisting that it could have been worse, but he is uncertain. According to the old man, Joey would stay peacefully on his farm and would never have to work again.
When they all come over, Albert thanks the major for at least trying to secure Joey's sale. The major and the sergeant act like they have no idea what he's talking about, the sergeant condescendingly remarking Albert might only be saying such a thing because farmboys are "raised on cider instead of milk." Puzzled by their levity, Albert asks what the old man means by saying Joey is "Emilie's horse." To which the major turns to the old man: "Maybe you would like to tell him yourself, monsieur?"
Emilie's grandfather looks stern at first, but then smiles, telling Albert he realizes that they both have a lot in common, despite having different nationalities. He recognizes that Albert must have been the one who trained Joey to be a farm horse. Then, he tells Albert the story of how Joey came to live with him and Emilie on their farm, revealing that after Joey and Topthorn were taken away, Emilie "lost the will to live" and "faded away and died last year" at the age of 15. But she had made her grandfather promise that he would find the horses somehow and take care of them. Although he never found Topthorn, he has now found Joey.
Referring to Albert as a "Tommy" (slang for a Brit?), Emilie's grandfather then says that he believes it was noble of the major and the sergeant to try to buy Joey for Albert, and that he recognizes how much Albert loves Joey. He doesn't believe that, being an old man, he could take care of him very well, and he believes Emilie would have liked that and "would want me to do what I will do now."
He proposes to sell Joey to Albert. Sell? Albert has very little money. But Emilie's grandfather chuckles, "You do not understand, my friend... you do not understand at all. I will sell you this horse for one English penny, and for a solemn promose -- that you will always love this horse as much as my Emilie did and that you will care for him until the end of his days. And more than this, I want you to tell everyone about my Emilie... that way she will live forever, and that is what I want. Is it a bargain between us?"
At first, Albert is silent. He holds out his hand, but the old man instead puts his hands on Albert's shoulders and kisses him on both cheeks. "Thank you," he says. He then says to Joey, "Goodbye, my friend," touches him lightly on the nose with his lips, and adds, "From Emilie." Before leaving, he cracks a joke about how English people are "meaner" than the French -- because the Sergeant has not yet paid him his English penny. The sergeant produces a penny and gives it to Albert, and when Albert runs over and hands it to Emilie's grandfather, he replies, "I shall treasure it... I shall treasure it always."
And so I came home from the war that Christmastime with my Albert riding me up into the village, and there to greet us was the silver band from the village and the rapturous pealing of the church bells. Both of us were received like conquering heroes, but we both knew that the real heroes had not come home, that they were lying out in France alongside Captain Nichols, Topthorn, Friedrich, David, and little Emilie.
My Albert married his Maisie Brown as he said he would. But I think she never took to me, nor I to her for that matter. Perhaps it was a feeling of mutual jealously. I went back to my work on the land with dear old Zoey, who seemed ageless and tireless, and Albert took over the farm again and went back to ringing his tenor bell. He talked to me of many things after that, of his aging father who doted on me now almost as much as on his own grandchildren, and of the vagaries of the weather and the markets, and of course about Maisie, whose crusty bread was every bit as good as he said. But try as I might, I never got to eat any of her pastries, and do you know, she never even offered me one.
Joey and Topthorn now have the ability to come to Emilie whenever she calls them. She is still sick, however, and sometimes has to heave herself onto Joey's back in order to ride him. Climbing Topthorn is harder, and sometimes she has to use Joey as a "stepping stone" in order to mount him.
One evening, Joey and Topthorn are greeted with good news from Emilie after she and her grandfather speak with a doctor. "They don't need you anymore to pull their cats," she tells them. The doctor, apparently, has agreed to let the horses stay with Emilie. She vows never to let the army take them away from her.
The grandfather sets Joey and Topthorn to work cutting and turning hay on the farm, insisting to Emilie that they "like to work. They need to work." But then an artillery troop enters the farm one evening, demanding that they need to take Joey and Topthorn because they're short 2 horses. Emilie cries that they can't, but the grandfather says there is nothing he can do and tells her to shape up and say goodbye to Joey and Topthorn.
She walked directly toward the officer and handed over the reins. "I want them back," she said, her voice strong now, almost fierce. "I'm just lending them to you. They are my horses. They belong here. Feed them well and look after them and make sure you bring them back." And she walked past her grandfather and into the house without even turning around.
Back in the war, Joey and Topthorn are saddled alongside other horses, including the hulkish Heinie and the nasty Coco ("When Coco was eating," Joey recalls, "no one -- neither horse nor man -- ventured within biting or kicking distance"). Also with them are two ponies with blond manes and tails whom the soldiers dub "the two golden Haflingers." They have to ride in the winter, when the mud has begun to freeze. It is a cruel existence, full of hard work and lacking good food for the horses, and the only nice soldier in the bunch is "the kindly old gunner I had noticed that first day when we were taken from the farm," who likes to feed Joey and Topthorn black bread and talks to them more than he talks to the soldiers.
The horses begin deteriorating. Heinie is shot by the vets one morning and left in the mud ("a collapsed wreck of a horse"), and when Coco is hit in the neck with shrapnel, he is euthanized as well. "No matter how much I disliked him -- and he was a vicious beast -- it was a piteous and terrible sight to see a fellow creature, with whom I had pulled for so long, discarded and forgotten in a ditch."
Joey notices that Topthorn's health is failing when he starts having trouble pulling the gun, and when he starts lying in the mud having coughing fits. When he is inspected by a vet, the vet protests to the spectacled officer that Topthorn is too fine to pull a gun and that he needs rest.
"He will have to do what the others do, Herr Doctor," said the major in a steely voice. "No more and no less. I cannot make exceptions." If you pass him fit, he's fit and that's that."
He's fit to go on," said the vet reluctantly. "But I am warning you, Herr Major. You must take care."
Although they survive into the spring, Joey notices that Topthorn's health is still deteriorating. Luckily, they are both so fat that they are never plunged into any battles due to being fattened up.
The old gunman, "Crazy Old Fredrich", tells Joey and Topthorn that he thinks himself "the only sane man in the regiment." He scoffs at the fact that so many men in the army don't know what they're going to war for. "You two are the only rational creatures I've met in this stupid war," he rails, "and like me, the only reason you're here is because you were brought here." Joey believes that Fredrich had more affection for Topthorn than for him.
"If I have to die out here away from my home," Fredrich confided to Topthorn one day, "I would rather die alongside you. But I'll do my best to see to it that we all get through and get back home -- that much I promise you."
Tophorn is admired by two young soldiers, Rudi and Karl. But then tragedy strikes.
As Frederich takes the horses down to the river to drink, Topthorn drinks a lot of water, then begins stumbling as they make their way back up the hill. Suddenly, Topthorn stumbles to his knees, falls, breathes heavily and looks up at Joey. Joey narrates, "It was an appeal for help -- I could see it in his eyes. " Then Topthorn slumps over and dies, his tongue sticking out.
Fredrich is saddened and angry at Topthorn's death, but Rudi tells him there's nothing he can do. When the vet comes to inspect, he is just as upset. All the soldiers gather around, mournful.
Just then, there is an explosion. Several men bathing in the river are hit by shells. Fredrich tries to pull Joey away, yelling at him, but Joey is too transfixed by Topthorn's death, and upon trying to escape by himself, Fredrich is struck by a shell and dies beside Topthorn.
The last I saw of my troop were the bobbing blond manes of the two little Haflingers as they struggled to pull the gun up through the trees with the gunners hauling frantically on their reins and straining to push the gun from behind.
The next day, tanks roar down the hill, and Joey runs away from them, crashing into the river. He runs through "deserted, ruined villages" before reaching a meadow. When he awakes, the night sky is alive with gunfire.
Falling into a crater, Joey is snagged by barbed wire that wounds his leg before he manages to break free. "This was to be the longest night of my life," he remembers, "a nightmare of agony, terror, and loneliness."
Eventually, Joey hears voices and stumbles into the mist towards them. He can hear soldiers bickering over whether they can see a cow or a horse in the distance.
Once the mist clears, Joey realizes that he's in a battlefield surrounded by barbed wire, much like the one he was in earlier.
I remembered I had been in such a place once before, that day when I had charged across it with Topthorn beside me. This was what the soldiers called "no man's land."