The Lippizan breed of horse is technically not white. This is one of those nitpicky Horse Person things; their coats are white, true, but their skin is black, and foals are born dark—often fully black—and they lighten as they age. They’re a lovely horse, and the Spanish Riding School has been breeding and training them since 1572. The “Spanish” is because the Lippizan stock includes some Andalusian heritage. It is true, as they keep saying throughout the movie, that the Spanish Riding School and their Lippizaners have been a tradition in Vienna for centuries, surviving wars, revolutions, and all kinds of other privations. And, yes, they survived World War II in a fashion not unlike the one depicted in the movie, though it seems it was even more hazardous than what we see here.
Alois Podhajsky (Robert Taylor) was the chief of the Academy of Classical Horsemanship, also known as the Spanish Riding School, starting in 1939. It was a difficult time to have a prominent position in Vienna. And of course, the school was under Nazi control. In World War II Vienna, everything was under Nazi control. What Podhajsky cared about, however, was the horses. Using orders written to allow him to remove “art treasures” from the city, he got the horses out of Vienna despite the plan to leave them there to convince the citizens of the city that everything was okay and there would be no liberation. (Or “invasion,” as the German command phrased it.) However, with the end of the war came the concern about which Allied power they’d be under the control of and if they’d be able to save the horses.
People eat horse meat, and one assumes that, in a country facing the ravages of war, the Lippizaners would’ve just looked like meals on the hoof. It’s also worth noting that art treasures put into Russian hands in those days did not always return to their country of origin. In a way, this could make an interesting double feature with The Monuments Men, another film about the wish to rescue the art treasures of Europe. That one has more star power than this, admittedly, and that absolutely heartbreaking scene where a roomful of art burns.
There’s a dialect coach for this movie, and I cannot for the life of me understand why. Robert Taylor sounds like Robert Taylor. Eddie Albert as Rider Otto sounds like Eddie Albert. Lilli Taylor as Vedena Podhajsky sounds Austrian, but she didn’t need a dialect coach to do that. Being born in Austria did the trick. Was the coach helping John Larch sound like Patton? Training the assorted actors playing Southerners to sound like assorted types of Southerners? It’s bewildering.
Still, the story is a lovely one, and I don’t know why it’s so hard to find. It’s available on DVD, but Amazon wants a whopping fifty dollars for it. (Honestly, I could’ve gotten it for about ten in the New and Used section, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend that on a movie I hadn’t seen since some time in the ‘80s and couldn’t speak to the quality of even with the generosity of my Patreon and Ko-fi assistance.) It’s not on Disney+, one can only assume because of how much time its leads spend running around in Nazi uniforms, and we’ll not discuss how I got access to it.