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Mi Taylor was a young wanderer and opportunist whose father had given him "all the roads in the Kingdom" to travel. One of the roads, and a notation in his father's journal, leads him to the quiet English country-side home of the Brown family. The youngest daughter, Velvet, has a passion for horses and when she wins the spirited steed Pie in a town lottery, Mi is encouraged to train the horse for the Grand National - England's greatest racing event. Written by
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"--- a 12-year old's single mindedness of commitment and trust ---"
If you last saw National Velvet with a Saturday matinée serial, for a ticket price of twenty-five cents (including popcorn) -- and you purchased the video to see it again with family -- be prepared to re-experience primal feelings from the early dawn of your history. Warm, wet tears will run down your cheeks. Warm, happy feelings will make you stand up and cheer, as if the posse were galloping to the rescue; but most of all, you will feel good -- it will happen often while viewing National Velvet. See the video many times -- cry and use a handkerchief (remember that piece of cloth mom tucked into your shirt pocket) -- jump up from the sofa and cheer; and FEEL GOOD again -- and again.
National Velvet was initially released in 1944; but I must have seen a re-release soon thereafter -- because I know that I was in grade school at the time. I did not see it again until I bought the DVD for my mother recently. And if asked what the movie was about, during that interim period of more than fifty years, I would have answered -- "it's about a horse." That's a boy's initial and lasting impression.
Animal lovers, (I'm sorry, but) National Velvet is not a horsey movie (and never has been)-- the film is really about the pre-teen innocence and enthusiasm of Velvet Brown (Elizabeth Taylor). No animal -- not the film's sorrel gelding, nor Charlie, my yellow labrador -- can compete with the budding beauty of Elizabeth Taylor for the camera's attention. But, stay focused on Velvet's three interwoven relationships -- with Mi Taylor (Mickey Rooney), with her mother (Anne Revere, best supporting actress Academy Award), and the horse, Pirate ("Pi"). What characterizes winsome Velvet, in these attachments, is a 12-year old's single mindedness of commitment and trust, together with her unwaivering loyalty -- admirable qualities also of Ms. Taylor in real life. Mi, whose father mentored Mrs. Brown, is a young itinerant from less fortunate circumstances, with a working knowledge of jumping horses. Mrs. Brown, ever mindful of her own growing experiences, is especially supportive of both her daughter and Mi. The spirited Pi is difficult handling for its owner, and the horse soon becomes a project for Mi and Velvet.
Angela Lansbury (Velvet's older sister, Edwina, aka TV's Jessica Fletcher fifty years later), Jackie Jenkins (the young brother), and particularly Donald Crisp (Mr. Brown, Velvet's father and village butcher) provide able and entertaining support roles. National Velvet received five Academy nominations, winning two.
Set in the 1920's English coastal village of Sewels and its green pasturelands (on location in Carmel, California), Enid Bagnold's book (1933)and the film (1944) tell us a lot about the moral and social structure of small villages (and our small towns, too). One meaningful scene shows Mrs. Brown stowing money in a kitchen pot on her pantry shelf, while Mi spies from the window -- we are wary of what he might do next. Villagers could be suspicious of strangers but they also extended trust, believing in a person's goodness. Front doors were left open -- grandparents will tell of neighbors regularly walking into an empty house, through the unlatched screen, to borrow a cup of sugar from the same cupboard where family monies were stored (my mother kept petty cash in an unused sugar bowl). Honesty was important, but entrusting friends and neighbors was equally valued. That unlatched screen with open front door was a symbol of our neighborliness and trust, and a more meaningful symbol of the times we lived in -- and yes, maybe it said something about our innocence too.
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