The film version of Marguerite Henry’s much-loved book for children, “Misty of the Chincoteague” is one I believe I saw on TV or in a theater as a child. In all the years since, I thought it was a Disney film, but when I bought a DVD of it in the Chincoteague Museum last weekend, I found out it was not! It’s just as good as many Disney live-action films, and better than some.
Paul and Maureen Beebe have come to live on their grandparents’ farm on Chincoteague Island, Virginia after the death of their parents. Grandpa Beebe has a small herd of ponies bought from the wild herd on Assateague Island, and he raises and sells young horses from it. Paul and Maureen are fascinated by the wild herd on Assateague, and while there decide an independent and swift mare called The Phantom (pictured above) is a horse they want to buy at the next annual sale, a tradition on the island. Usually only recently born and yearling horses are sold, but Paul and Maureen believe they can talk the Fire Company (who own the horses) into selling The Phantom to them. Their grandfather has told them that a pony costs $100 at the sale, and they work very hard through the spring and summer to raise that amount, first by gentling and training Grandpa Beebe’s own newborns, then by doing all kinds of odd jobs. On a visit to Assateague, Paul discovers that The Phantom has had a creamy-white foal which he names Misty. Now Paul and Maureen hope to buy both horses, though where the second hundred dollars will come from they don’t know.
The big event of the year is the annual Pony Swim, when the entire herd is rounded up and swum from Assateague to the fairgrounds on Chincoteague for the sale. Grandpa and Paul help with this, and Paul even jumps into the water to help a struggling Misty reach the shore. The day before the sale, Paul and Maureen visit the ponies who will be sold and discover that Misty already has a Sold tag! It seems a man from off-island wanted a horse for his young son, and made a pre-sale deal with the Fire Chief. Paul and Maureen’s hopes are dashed!
That’s enough of the plot, which is fairly predictable, but quite enjoyable. The film is beautifully photographed, the score is excellent, and the acting is generally fine, if a bit corny at times. Only six real actors are in it, including David Ladd as Paul, son of Alan Ladd, and later a film executive. Equally good performances are given by Pam Smith as Maureen, Arthur O’Connell as Grandpa Beebe and Anne Seymour as Grandma Beebe. Many small parts are filled by actual Chincoteague residents, who do fine, though their accents are a bit hard to follow.
As an adaptation of the book, this film does quite well. It’s reasonably close in many areas, with some events moved around or somewhat altered, notably a horse race. It also gives a fine portrait of the area, and the publicity from the film helped preserve Assateague and its wild horses. The spirit of the book is captured well, and the horses are damned cute!