A girl once loved a rebel horse,
As girls so often do.
She saw its gentle side within,
And by her gentleness, it grew.
She watched and loved its every move
And praised its every feat.
What others feared and labeled wild
She kissed, caressed, and called it sweet.
She never bore a single doubt
Of what her horse could do.
If she imagined it could fly,
The horse and she would make it true.
The doubts of others held no sway,
As mountains scoff at breeze,
For love’s conviction can make real
The smallest chance no other sees.
MPA rating: Passed (easily G)
I may be a month late for my first Blindspot, but I’m still better off than the last couple years when I didn’t get started till April. For no particular reason, I decided to start with the oldest film on my 2022 Blindspot list, 1944’s National Velvet. This is a film my mom convinced me to see, and I wasn’t expecting much since I’m not a big fan of horses. So it was an utterly pleasant surprise to find it an absolute gem deserving of its classic status.
Set in England and based on a 1935 Enid Bagnold novel, National Velvet stars a twelve-year-old Elizabeth Taylor (in her first major role) as Velvet Brown, a country girl obsessed with horses who is thrilled to win a brown beauty she calls The Pie. Befriending Velvet is Mi Taylor (Mickey Rooney, not even attempting a British accent), a former jockey whose self-serving instincts are won over by Velvet’s earnestness until he agrees to train The Pie for the illustrious Grand National race.
Older films like this can easily suffer from dated or exaggerated acting, but National Velvet is outstanding in every regard. While Velvet’s oddball little brother (Jackie “Butch” Jenkins) is an exception, I loved the warm portrayal of her family, from Angela Lansbury’s boy-crazy sister to Donald Crisp’s gregarious father. However, the standout and the winner of a Best Supporting Actress Oscar is Anne Revere as the family matriarch, seemingly stern and stoic but with a warm-hearted affection just below the surface as she verbally spars with her husband and encourages her daughter to chase her dreams. The family could be compared with the Morgan clan of How Green Was My Valley, which also starred Crisp as a father among lovely British countryside a few years earlier, but the Browns won me over even more than the Morgans.
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I don’t think I’d ever seen an Elizabeth Taylor film before, unless you count her brief introduction in That’s Entertainment! I’ll have to see more, but it’s clear from this first major role that she was a star in the making, her guileless determination making Velvet a perfect cheer-worthy underdog. Likewise, Rooney shows dramatic grit beyond his lighthearted musicals, and I enjoyed his character’s moral transformation over the course of the film. The commitment of both leads makes the final race a nail-biting climax; even if you may assume what the result will be, it still bucks predictability. (It also features some surprisingly realistic horse falls, making me think films like this led to more stringent protections for animals on film sets.)
I’ve known girls like Velvet who are obsessed with horses, including my own mother who loved books like Misty of Chincoteague. I’ve never been enamored of them like that, so I wasn’t expecting much from National Velvet. As I so often quote from La La Land, “people love what other people are passionate about,” and the devoted enthusiasm of Velvet Brown made me root for The Pie just like her. I love when expectations are blasted away, and National Velvet is a pure, eloquent family classic that left me smiling for much of its runtime. Now that’s the way to start a Blindspot series.
Best line: (Mrs. Brown, to Velvet) “We’re alike. I, too, believe that everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly once in his life. I was twenty when they said a woman couldn’t swim the Channel. You’re twelve; you think a 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.”
© 2022 S.G. Liput
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