Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • U
  • Drama, Family
  • 1944
  • 120 mins

National Velvet

National Velvet

Synopsis

Fresh-faced pair Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney take on the world of professional horse racing in this family favourite

About

Best known these days as an XXL high camp icon and close pal to Michael Jackson, it can be quite a shock to see Liz Taylor as she was back in 1944 at the tender age of 12. Here, Liz's portrayal of an adolescent horse fetishist is sufficiently convincing to offer a possible explanation for the long string of failed marriages that lay ahead.

While big sister Edwina ('Murder She Wrote' star Angela Lansbury) is just getting into boys, young Velvet Brown (Taylor) is firmly besotted with all things equine, so much so that we're treated to several scenes of Velvet sitting about in pyjamas, yanking at lengths of string tied about her feet in a disturbing act of air-jockeying.

None of this deters flat-capped Mickey Rooney, strolling into town as a smooth talking rogue sporting the truncated name of 'Mi'. This pint-sized Han Solo soon wheedles his way into the Brown household and is all set to rob the family's savings until a more lucrative opportunity appears in the form of disobedient horse The Pie (most characters use the definite article when referring to the star nag). Mi immediately recognises the race-winning potential of the untamed beast, while the wide-eyed Velvet merely sees "an enchanted horse- with invisible wings!"

Dodging a one-way trip to the glue factory, The Pie is soon receiving intense training in preparation for his professional début in what must be one of cinema's earliest Rocky-style montages, this one chiefly involving dissolve shots of a horse trotting in a circle around an impatient Mickey Rooney.

As the film's title suggests, the story builds to Velvet and The Pie entering the Grand National. To achieve this, Velvet gets a severe haircut and is passed off as a Latvian boy speaking no English, emerging in pink and yellow racing silks to resemble a cross-dressing Battenberg cake.

Sadly, all this makes the film sound a great deal more compact than it actually is. The two hour running time boasts a great deal of padding and dead-end sub plots which illustrate quite how leisurely movies - particularly expensive, colour ones - could be in an age before they had TV to compete against.

Velvet has another sister, Malvolia (Quigley) contributing nothing at all, plus a young, wonky-eyed brother, Donald (Jenkins) who wastes valuable reels of celluloid squawking on about a bottle of insects he keeps about his neck and, in one bizarre and pointless scene, his insistence that he saw a horse die in a previous life.

That the Brown parents (Crisp and Revere) seem so glacially detached (even when on their own, they refer to one another as Mr and Mrs Brown), doesn't help make Velvet's lengthy battle to see her dreams come true particularly exciting or rewarding for modern audiences.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Anne Revere, Elizabeth Taylor, Juanita Quigley, Jackie 'Butch' Jenkins, Reginald Owen, Mickey Rooney, Donald Crisp, Angela Lansbury
  • Director: Clarence Brown
  • Screen Writer: Theodore Reeves, Helen Deutsch
  • Producer: Pandro S Berman
  • Photographer: Leonard Smith
  • Composer: Herbert Stothart

In a nutshell

Gorgeous photography and a great musical score win through in a film hampered by its hopelessly slow pacing. Given the characters' bizarre names, it's a pity this wasn't called 'Me, Mi & The Pie'.

by Jim Hall

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4 The Wackiest Ship In The Army

    The Wackiest Ship In The Army

    Jack Lemmon stars as a Lieutenant tricked into taking command of a ship full of misfits, tasked with a top secret mission to save hundreds of allied lives

  • Film4 Youth

    Youth

    Fred and Mick, two old friends now approaching 80, are on vacation together in an elegant hotel at the foot of the Alps. The two friends know that their time is quickly running out, and they decide to face their future together.

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Mike Leigh announces new film, Peterloo

    Mike Leigh's next project will look at Peterloo - the infamous 1819 massacre by government forces at a peaceful pro-democracy rally at St Peter's Field in Manchester, when 700 working people were inju

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Four Film4-backed films selected In Competition at Cannes 2015

    Four Film4-backed films ¿ Todd Haynes¿ Carol, Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster, Paolo Sorrentino¿s Youth and Justin Kurzel¿s Macbeth ¿ have been invited into official selection at this year¿s Cannes film

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

Share