Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 3 min.
Release Date: January 26th, 1945 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Clarence Brown Actors: Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Donald Crisp, Anne Revere, Angela Lansbury, Reginald Owen
he’s always dreaming.” On the last day of school before summer holiday in a quaint English village (Sewels) during the late 1920s, 12-year-old Velvet Brown (Elizabeth Taylor) dismisses her older sister’s (Angela Lansbury as Edwina) interests in a boy, instead concerning herself with her real passion: horses. Yet when she crosses paths with vagabond Mi Taylor (Mickey Rooney), she’s immediately attentive, helping the lad to secure a place to stay and a source of income – in her home and at her father’s butcher shop, respectively.
“You have only your faces for your fortunes.” In this setting, Velvet and her sisters aren’t expected to accomplish anything other than getting married off, which is an interesting contrast considering that Mi doesn’t have a certain career – and that his initial inclination is to steal from the very people offering him a hearty meal. But as it turns out, Velvet acquires a gelding and Mi helps her to train and ride it, eventually going so far as to enter him into the Grand National steeplechase course.
The journey from wild stallion to proper racehorse is actually quite slow, considering that the brunt of the story is about developing the characters, which is a far richer affair than the main event itself. Velvet’s father and mother, Mr. Brown (Donald Crisp) and Mrs. Brown (Anne Revere) – who address each other only by those names – are exceptional filmic personas, demonstrating a generosity, kindness, and good humor rarely seen in parental figures onscreen. They’re unusually understanding and supportive, which limits the conflicts to the horse’s wellbeing and training, but it’s those humans who prove more watchable and relatable and inspiring. Even as the story tends to crawl, there’s something undeniably appealing about spending time with these roles.
Eventually, the whole town rallies behind Velvet’s aims, as the competitor prepares for the big day. Another expected hurdle arrives when difficulties in acquiring a jockey present themselves, along with the revelation about Mi’s riding past and last-minute jitters, but these are trivial matters, contrived to stretch out the third act; ultimately, this picture follows a predictable formula for sports-related dramas. And it’s slightly less elevating since Velvet insists upon faith and her steed’s cooperation, as if the creature actually wants to leap over obstacles to earn its owner recognition and money.
Even the climactic race tends to lack excitement, despite the numerous possible results (and footage containing horses [and jockeys] that looks as if they’re genuinely injured), as winning or losing isn’t of the utmost importance. But the idea that an absolute underdog, without the standard accesses to expensive facilities and with limited resources, can compete in a renowned clash, makes for a decent – if standard and unbelievable – premise. In the end (as unnecessarily protracted as it is), however, it’s the characters and their relationships that are worth rooting for and observing (though one of the most consequential is Mi’s connection to Mrs. Brown, details of which are withheld from the lad for so long that it’s something of an accident when he eventually hears them) – and definitely not the “greatest race in turfdom.”
– Mike Massie