Monday, July 8, 2024

Horsey Watch: National Velvet (1944)

Watched:  07/08/2024
Format:  Max
Viewing:  First
Director:  Clarence Brown
Selection:  Jamie

It's unlikely I would have picked National Velvet (1944) for myself.  It's a movie about a 12 year old girl who loves horses.  But, Jamie mentioned it a while back, and she's sick right now, and when you're sick in our house, you get to pick the movie/ show/ etc...  Plus, it *is* a bonafide classic, and I had not seen any of Elizabeth Taylor's work from when she was a kid.*

It's good!  This is a solid, fun, sweet movie.  The cast is terrific, the sets and matte paintings and locations all very pretty.  We get Angela Lansbury as a teen, Liz as a pre-teen, Mickey Rooney in his 20's, Juanita Quigley (one of the Our Gang kids), Donald Crisp as the father and Anne Revere is phenomenal as Liz's mother.

Liz plays a girl, one Velvet Brown, in that horse-crazy phase who stumbles upon two things at the same time - a hard-travelling Mickey Rooney and a lovely new horse one of her neighbors has purchased, but can't tame.  She loves the horse immediately.  

Her family definitely has echoes of the Smiths in Meet Me In St. Louis, which has to be a coincidence given their production schedules and years of release, but one also can guess the studios were providing scenes of domesticity during pre-war years to give their war-time audiences something to remind them of normalcy.   Velvet's elder sister is boy-crazy, her younger sister a bit of a scold, her baby brother, an absolute weirdo.  And mom understands and dad does not.  

Also, it turns out that Mom once swum the English Channel for a cash prize (which was not accomplished til 1926, about when this movie occurs.  However, the film Million Dollar Mermaid is about Annette Kellerman, who tried in 1905).  

Through a series of hi-jinks, the horse, named The Pie or Pie comes into Velvet's possession, and she and Mickey Rooney work to get the horse into England's premier horse race, the Grand National Sweepstakes, which is five miles of obstacles/ jumps.  

Along the way, Mickey Rooney must determine what sort of fellow he is, the family has to come to believe in Velvet's dream and Velvet embraces what it means to take that one big shot in life.

By the time this movie was shot, Mickey Rooney was a very established star and about to ship out for war.  And Taylor was becoming established as a young star - and it's clear to see how very good she was going to be, even here.  Her role could have been saccharine or twee, but somehow she manages to make it sympathetic - helped along by the ensemble.  And, yes, Angela Lansbury is terrific, too.

I dunno.  I liked it.  There's few surprises.  And it's funny to see Rooney play another former jockey in 1979's Black Stallion (I genuinely looked up if that movie is an unofficial sequel and I just missed something.  It's not.).   But the movie is sweet, hits all the right notes for a wartime family melodrama, and takes the feelings of the young characters seriously (except for bug-collecting Donald).  

If you've got kids, I think they'd dig it.  But I'm a 49 year old dude, and I was a fan.

*I know!  You'd think I'd have watched some Lassie movies.

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