Down a racing rabbit hole, Part 1

by Trey Nosrac

My most recent cyberspace rabbit hole began two days ago. A cinephile friend and I were sharing a double pepperoni and onion pizza at The Slice of Life Emporium when neither of us could recall the official title of an excellent Swedish film under discussion. Since our fingers were greasy, we did not reach into our pockets for phones to solve the mystery. We just moved on to other cinematic subjects.

The elusive Swedish movie title remained a pebble in my brain. At home, a quick search removed the stone. We all do this daily — solve a question using our devices, a minor miracle that once required, at minimum, a visit to our local library.

The elusive film was easy to find: a 1971 film titled Utvandrarna (Swedish) The Emigrants (English) based on the novel by Vilhelm Moberg. Directed and screenplay by Jan Troell, starring Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullman, the movie was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 45th Academy Awards.

A simple search like this can be treacherous. We all run the risk of getting sucked down digital passages. Sometimes, we go down purposefully. Other times, we get lured into the chasm of endless links and scrolls. Who among us has not looked for an old song on YouTube and, several hours later, find ourselves sitting near-comatose, headphones on, listening to a YouTube concert of the Go-Betweens, a rock band from Australia whose last record was in 1989?

These digital rabbit holes are a yin and yang proposition. Yin, we are all curious creatures, and our curiosity can be satisfied. Yang, we can waste a lot of time and become addicted to our devices. Even the previous two sentences led me down two little rabbit holes.

The oldest records of the yin-yang principle are found in the Zhouyi, also called the I Ching or Book of Changes, which King Wen wrote in the 9th century BCE during the Western Zhou dynasty. The term rabbit hole begins with the opening chapter of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 classic, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, when Alice follows the White Rabbit into his burrow, which transports her to Wonderland’s strange, surreal, and nonsensical world.

A recent rabbit hole led me on a trio of odysseys that led to the sport of harness horse racing. These portals may be of interest to you. On the trail of my search for the Swedish film, I noticed a thread leading to a movie database separating films by genre. A whisper of a question popped into my head: How many movies on this sortable list are about horse racing?

The answer was instantaneous: 120 full-length movies, sorted chronologically, starting with a film titled The Derby (The Epsom Deby, not the Kentucky Derby) released in 1895. I quickly fell deeper into the rabbit hole.

What kind of horse racing movies?

Drama: 60

Comedy: 36

Biography: 6

Musical: 5

Romance: 4

Family: 3

Western: 2

Mystery: 2

Thriller: 1

How many of these films are about harness horse racing?

• Off to the Races (1937) — Jimmy must win the county fair’s big harness race to get his owner out of jail.

• Golden Hoof (1941) — A girl enters her trotter, Yankee Doodle, in the Hiatoga Stakes.

• Home in Indiana (1944) — A former sulky driver gives his nephew harness racing lessons.

• Green Grass of Wyoming (1948) — The past owners of Flicka and Thunderhead take their trotter Crown Jewel to a race in Ohio.

• The Great Dan Patch (1949) — A biographical film based on the true story of the famous turn-of-the-century trotter.

• County Fair (1950) — Rory Calhoun thwarts crooks trying to fix a race.

• April Love (1957) — In Kentucky, a wayward youth, Pat Boone, trains in a sulky for a horse race.

• Eden Valley (1994) — The story of a British harness-racing community.

Most harness racing movies on the list were familiar because of reviews in history magazines or harness racing publications. However, one film on the list, Eden Valley, was new to me; another rabbit hole screaming for exploration. I followed the call. The research fascinated me.

Eventually, I rented Eden Valley and watched it twice. Finding and watching the film was only the start of this rabbit hole. More intriguing harness horse racing rabbit holes beckoned.

Next week, we visit the mysterious Eden Valley (with visuals). A strange place indeed.