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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

photo caption:
EAST MEETS WEST: A wily Arab sheik (Omar Sharif, left) and the Laramie Kid, Frank Watkins (Viggo Mortenson), meet to discuss the details of the impending 3000 mile horse race across the Sahara desert.end caption.


"Hidalgo": Horse Race Hoax Offers one Wild, but Purely Fabricated, Ride

Historians have long been aware that the legend of the Laramie Kid had been fraudulently fashioned and was fictional. According to the self aggrandizing myths concocted by this charlatan, reputed to be a rugged frontiersman, his career included stints as a secret agent, buffalo hunter, African explorer, bounty hunter, fearless gunslinger, and expert interpreter. Though he maintained that he was from Fort Laramie, Wyoming, it turns out that he lived his entire life in the eastern half of the United States.

Watkins was a bigamist who lived in Queens with one wife while his other wife resided in New Jersey with their five children. Records show he dug subway tunnels and worked in a shipyard as a boilermaker.

That didn't stop him from asserting that he'd had tea with Queen Victoria on a balcony at Buckingham Palace, had served as a Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt, and had been the ringmaster and trick-riding star of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show for over 32 years. However, there is no evidence that he'd ever done or met any of the above.

Watkins claimed to be the half-Sioux grandson of Geronimo (who was an Apache) and a friend of Black Elk, whose writings he plagiarized in his autobiography. He also erroneously reported that Chief Joseph, leader of the Nez Perce, was Geronimo's brother. Furthermore, he referred to Sitting Bull as a coward while he boasted about his own exploits as an Indian fighter, saying he'd witnessed the massacre at Wounded Knee.

Blessed with nerve and a vivid imagination, Watkins was willing to spin tall tales about himself, one of the tallest being that he had won some 400 marathon horse races in the Wild West, Europe, and the Middle East, and was a world-renowned endurance rider. This is the aspect of Watkins of interest to us here, since it is the focus of the Disney movie Hidalgo.

Hidalgo was directed by Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park), an Oscar-winner. It was written by John Fusco, who, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, stands by his account of the facts, even though nobody can find an authentic photograph of Watkins sitting on a horse.

The film stars Viggo Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy), whose rugged looks lend themselves to the character he's called upon to portray. He shares virtually every scene with his co-star, a proud sorrel-and-white mustang named T.J. Among the supporting cast are Omar Sharif (Lawrence of Arabia) and Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange).

The movie begins in Wounded Knee in 1890, with Frank Watkins, a Pony Express messenger, bearing bad news about the impending solution to the Sioux uprising. Following that unfortunate event, he's next seen employed by Buffalo Bill and flirting with Annie Oakley before boarding a ship headed for the Middle East.

An Arab sheik (Sharif), who is a cowboy fan, has invited him to enter his aging, runt of a horse against the best Arabian thoroughbreds in the world in the Ocean of Fire, a 3,000 mile race across the Sahara desert. This event, around which the movie revolves, is a desert mirage, since there is no record of any such race ever being staged in the region.

The production provides a plethora of caricatures as we plod along to the predictable finish: the noble Indian chief, the avaricious Arab prince, the damsel in distress, the wife with a wandering eye, the unscrupulous adversary, and so forth.

Nonetheless, given the world's current state of affairs, any patriot able to ignore Hidalgo's outrageous historical distortions might take a bit of pride in this triumph of a red-blooded, Yankee underdog over foreign foes.

Good (2 stars). Rated PG-13 for violence and mild sexual innuendo.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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