National Velvet (1944)

Posted by on Dec 19, 2011 in Buddy Movies | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: Some mild sexism and a dangerously cute Elizabeth Taylor.

National Velvet is known for being two things: the quintessential girl-and-her-horse movie and the film that launched Elizabeth Taylor’s career. While it’s set up like a love story (girl falls for beautiful horse), National Velvet is more concerned with hope and pursuing a dream no matter the cost.

As the film unravels, we follow a jaded jockey named Mi Taylor (Mickey Rooney), who is traveling the English countryside looking for odd jobs. When he comes across the Brown family, he earns his keep in their stable. The family includes the greedy, but well-intentioned Mr. Brown (Donald Crisp), the down-to-earth Mrs. Brown (Anne Revere), eldest sister (Angela Lansbury), youngest brother Donald (Jackie Jenkins), and, of course, Velvet (Taylor).

Velvet falls deeply in love with an unruly and wild young gelding named Pie, which she wins in a town lottery, and becomes determined to enter it in England’s greatest race, the Grand National. Velvet and Mi train for months and after their choice jockey drops out, Velvet cuts her hair and does the duties herself.

This cheesy yet enjoyable film Velvet3makes up for a slow-moving first half, which merely paints a picture of the family and the small town, by filling the remaining half with an underdog sports-movie plot. Though Revere won an Oscar for her portrayal of Velvet’s mother, it’s clear right from the start that Taylor is a starry-eyed gem just waiting to shine. Interestingly, Taylor felt so strongly about her role that she ended up keeping the horse. The film’s commercial success, along with five Oscar nominations, led to a cheesier sequel and short-lived TV series.

The only element of the film that truly shows its age is the gender relationships and roles. For instance, Mr. and Mrs. Brown refer to each other as just that, their formal titles. Even more telling is an early quote by Mr. Brown to his daughters: “You’ve got only your faces to make your fortunes.” Yikes. Velvet’s portrayal of a strong young woman looking to leap ahead of the athletic and prideful men thankfully more than makes up for those moments. The most touching moment in the film, which I’m convinced gave Revere her Oscar nod, came in a conversation between mother and daughter.

“I, too, believe that everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly once in his life,” Mrs. Brown says. “I was 20 when they said a woman couldn’t swim the channel. You’re 12, you think that horse of yours can win the Grand National. Your dream has come early, but remember Velvet, it will have to last you all the rest of your life.”

This brief moment is a theme  of the film as each family member, including Mi, has a different perspective on his/her dreams. And, conveniently enough, each individual comes from a different age spectrum. It’s a telling message about cherishing youth and never forgetting to follow your dreams – no matter how lofty. Maybe I still can be the starting third-baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers. Thanks, Velvet.

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