Handsomely mounted by director Steve Miner from an on-target screenplay by Matt Williams and Oley Sassone, WILD HEARTS CAN'T BE BROKEN is an exquisite example of an almost forgotten genre: the well-crafted family film. Set in and around Depression-era Atlantic City, it's a sweet,
poignant and altogether refreshing period piece well worth viewing by every family member.
Sonora Webster (Gabrielle Anwar), a tomboy orphan, runs away from her insensitive aunt's Georgia farm to seek her fortune out in the world. Specifically, she's determined to become the star of a carnival horse-diving act (an act during which a horse and girl rider plunge 40 feet off a long wooden
ramp into a tank of water). Soon after hitting the road, Sonora finds herself in a head-on confrontation with Dr. Carver (Cliff Robertson), a crusty cowboy of the old school who claims to be wearing duds that originally belonged to his friend, Wild Bill Hickok. While the spunky Sonora has visions
of becoming the new star attraction of Dr. Carver's "Death-Defying Diving Horse Girl Show," the doctor's vision is of Sonora heading back home where she belongs. A compromise is reached and Sonora remains with the traveling show, but as a manure shoveler.
Sonora's flirtation with Al, Dr. Carver's charismatic son (Michael Schoeffling), pays off by gaining his help and support. Al not only teaches Sonora how to leap on a galloping horse, but goes to bat for her with his father. Unfortunately, father and son have a falling out and Al takes a powder,
leaving Sonora to fend for herself, both with Dr. Carver and with Marie (Kathleen York), the show's current red-headed horse-diving star.
Eventually circumstances provide Dr. Carver with a long-term contract that brings his show to the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. By the time the show arrives in Atlantic City, Marie has taken off for the West Coast, where she hopes to land a Hollywood contract, and Al returns to the fold, reuniting
himself with Sorona, with whom he has fallen deeply in love. Already the show's new star, Sonora makes her Atlantic City debut only to be felled by a tragic accident. Sonora's horse spooks and this causes both horse and rider to tumble awkwardly into the water tank. In the confusion, Sonora fails
to shut her eyes when she hits the water. Because she fails to seek immediate medical attention, Sonora's eyes hemorrhage, detaching her retinas and leaving her permanently blind. Fortunately, with Al's help (by this time Dr. Carver has passed away), Sonora not only overcomes her despair but
proceeds to demonstrate that she can perform the risky diving stunt blind. Al and Sonora marry, and she continues to perform the exact same stunt for eleven more years before calling it quits.
WILD HEARTS CAN'T BE BROKEN does a remarkable job of evoking a long-vanished period of American history, from its cars, clothes and hairstyles to its somber atmosphere. In her American feature debut, British actress Gabrielle Anwar (Dusan Makavejev's MANIFESTO, IF LOOKS COULD KILL) delivers a
stunning performance as Sonora, abetted by Michael Schoeffling (LONGTIME COMPANION, MERMAIDS) and veteran Cliff Robertson (CHARLY, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, STAR 80), who gives a truly memorable performance as the old cowpoke-showman. Cinematographer Daryn Okada must also be congratulated for his
Depression-era golden browns and greys, as well as Mason Daring for his delightful 1930s-flavored musical score, production designer Randy Ser for his effective 30s atmosphere and Malissa Daniel for her authentic period costumes.
WILD HEARTS CAN'T BE BROKEN is a film that will make some viewers yearn for a return to a simpler, quieter period of American life; a life free of atom bomb worries, frenzied traffic jams, computer glitches and, above all, the abrasive screeching and screaming sounds of heavy metal rock 'n'
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: G
- Review: Handsomely mounted by director Steve Miner from an on-target screenplay by Matt Williams and Oley Sassone, WILD HEARTS CAN'T BE BROKEN is an exquisite example of an almost forgotten genre: the well-crafted family film. Set in and around Depression-era Atla… (more)