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Review: National Velvet (1944)

National Velvet

Rating

Director
Clarence Brown
Screenplay
Theodore Reeves, Helen Deutsch (Novel: Enid Bagnold)
Length
123 min.
Starring
Mickey Rooney, Donald Crisp, Elizabeth Taylor, Anne Revere, Angela Lansbury, Jackie Jenkins, Juanita Quigley, Arthur Treacher, Reginald Owen, Normal Varden, Terry Kilburn, Arthur Shields, Aubrey Mather, Alec Craig, Eugene Loring
MPAA Rating
Approved (original); G (re-rated)

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Review
The homespun story of a young girl with big dreams and the rebellious horse that tests her courage and determination. Elizabeth Taylor won early acclaim as Velvet Brown, the headstrong twelve-year-old seeking to win the Grand National horse racing competition. She is certainly deserving of praise for managing to lead the film at such a young age and it's evidence of a strong career.

In a small, but effective bit, Angela Lansbury also shows her early potential as Velvet's lovelorn older sister. But it's Anne Revere who won the Oscar for her matriarch, a kind, benevolent, strong-willed mother who guides the young Velvet into making decisions that suit her and not the whims of her father or those around her. She is a powerful central character and reps one of the film's best performances, second only to Taylor. Mickey Rooney who didn't look his 24 years at the time, plays the wayward drifter taken in by the Brown clan whose past in racing helps stoke Velvet's dreams of grandeur even if his initial motives were not noble. Although he acquits himself well enough, it's poor casting on the producer's part as his general look and height makes him appear too young for the character.

Film history has shown a willingness to use morality plays to teach youngsters how it is appropriate to behave. And while modern films are no strangers to happy, unquestionably victorious endings, the one that accompanies National Velvet is admirably bittersweet. Velvet is taught humility, responsibility and the value of hard-fought success without making her tough decisions seem pointless and trivial because things would have worked out well in the end regardless of what she decided. Some scenes are a bit sugary, but the overarching message is one of character building and not one of placating the masses. As for the structure of the film, it's extremely well edited, especially those tense scenes at the track when Velvet is riding for all she's worth towards the winner's circle. These scenes can be drawn on as inspiration of how to effectively cut such events on film and that inspiration can be seen in several racing scenes in many later films, including the famed chariot racing scene in Ben-Hur.
Review Written
September 27, 2010

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