Sylvester  (1983) from Tuna

Sylvester (1985) is a PG rated formula sports story. Not only that, but the sport in question is a less-than-thrill-a-minute activity, equestrian competition. As one character says, "It's called dressage. It's like watching cement set."

Given that, why did I enjoy it so much? Hold that question.

Melissa Gilbert (from Little House on the Prairie) plays a 16 year old orphan trying to raise her two young brothers, keep them away from child protective services, keep her boyfriend at arms' length but not chase him off, and learn to be a horse trainer. She works for curmudgeonly alcoholic Richard Farnsworth, who runs the local stockyard in Martha, Texas. She falls in love with a horse she names Sylvester, and dreams of training him on her way toward becoming a famous trainer. For a girl with a lot of heart and natural talent, but very little experience, reaching her goal will take the help of everyone in Martha, Texas, especially Farnsworth, who was in the cavalry and knows horse training.

The plot is padded out by the stock crises: the hired hand who tried to rape her, the boyfriend who wants to marry her as soon as possible, the fact that she has picked the prestigious national trials as her first event, and Farnsworth's excessive drinking, which reminds her too much of her dead father. Since it's a formula sports film, you already know that she succeeds, and everyone in the film finds redemption because of her efforts.

So, again, why did I like it?

The simple answer is that I liked all of the characters. They were human, with human failings, and were very believably portrayed. In a genre that I think is usually aimed at naive adolescent girls, the "girl and her horse" story, they have created true family entertainment. Gilbert, in her first feature film, showed amazing range given her Little House training.




  • It has an attempted rape of a minor (Melissa Gilbert) whose breasts are exposed during the rape, but the film was rated PG by a kinder, gentler MPAA, and even was nominated a Young Artist Award as a family movie. Yes, parents should be on hand to explain the rape attempt, but it was not at all gratuitous, and was treated exactly the way it should have, as a despicable act by a real creep. I can imagine the current generation MPAA rating of "R, for graphic rape of a minor, some violence and language."

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. With solid characterization overcoming a trite formula story line, this is much better than the genre average.

Return to the Movie House home page