03 February 2009

Hail to the Headless Horse!

One of my favorite Disney films of all time has always been the French-set (filmed in England) story The Horse Without a Head, based on a book by Paul Berna. The film starred Vincent Winter (Disney semi-regular, appearing in Three Lives of Thomasina and Almost Angels) and Pamela Franklin (one of her two appearances for Disney, the other being A Tiger Walks), along with Jean-Pierre Aumont and British character actor Leo McKern. Winter and Franklin, along with three other child actors, play five poor French children whose only toy is a full-sized hobbyhorse (not like a rocking or spring horse) on three metal wheels, which they use as a "thrill ride" of sorts, riding it at breakneck speed down the steep hills of their town. Franklin is particularly delightful as Marion, the girl with a talent for nursing and re-homing stray dogs, who has them all trained to come to the sound of her whistle.

So you can imagine I was delighted many years ago to come upon the Scholastic printing of the book, translated from the French. Given that Disney sometimes adapts books into unrecognizable format, it was interesting to read this volume and discover that they stuck very close to the storyline for this adventure.

There are minor differences: in the movie the crime is seen being plotted (probably because the ringleader of the robbery is played by well-known actor Herbert Lom, later of the "Pink Panther" films), while in the book some of the perpetrators are figured out only at the end. In the book there are ten children, not five, and Vincent Winter's character is a combination of two boys, the head of the group, Gaby, and the part he actually plays, Fernand. In the movie Marion's grandfather is the old junkman who finds the horse for the children, while in the book he is a character not connected to Marion.

Also, Inspector Sinet in the book is a rather dour middle-aged man rather than someone like the handsome, vibrant Jean-Pierre Aumont. However, everything is "there," so to speak, so if you ever have enjoyed the Disney film, you would be well to look up a copy of the book to further capture the French character of the town and the story.


Anonymous said...

There is a sequel to this book that I enjoyed very much: The Mystery of Saint-Salgue. I would like to know whether any other Paul Berna books featured this gang of children.

Linda said...

My gosh, I never even knew there was a sequel!!!