National Velvet (1945): Oscar Nominated Classic Children’s Tale, Starring Elizabeth Taylor

Based on Enid Bagnold’s 1935 popular novel, National Velvet, one of the most likeable animal-child tales, was the first starring role of Elizabeth Taylor, then age 12.

Taylor and her mother had to convince producer Pandro Berman to assign the part of Velvet Brown to Taylor, who claimed that it was noy only her favorite book, but that she also possessed the right English accent and horse back-riding called by the part.

When Berman decalred Taylor was too short and too slight, the young actress showed her determination and put on some weight; in three month, her height has changed as well.

For years, Taylor claimed that “National Velvet” was her most exciting film, due to the touching story and strong character she played.

Set in Sussex, England, the story revolves around Velvet Brown, the daughter of a butcher, who temas with a vaganbond teenager named Mi Taylor (Mickey Rooney) to train for competition a horse she has won in a raffle.

Despite difficulties, Velvet enters “The Pie” in the Grand National, in which she is forced to disguise herself as a boy. Though the horse wins, Velvet is disqualified, but she is happy that “The Pie” is declared champion.

The tale’s early chapters belong to Mickey Rooney in the showier role of Mike Taylor, a headstrong English ex-jockey. Soured on life by a serious accident, Mike plans to steal from the country family that has taken him in, but his resolve is weakened by the kindness of Velvet.

The two kids establish a  bond based on their love of horses. Though Mike is unable to ride the horse, he aids Velvet in her plan to disguise herself as a jockey.

Co-starring as Velvet’s mother is the good character actress, Anne Revere, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as a woman who was once a champion swimmer and now wants her daughter to have the same chance to prove herself, even if it calls competition in a male-dominated world.

Under the skillful direction of Clarence Brown, the entire cast rose to the occasion, including Donald Crisp as Velvet’s father and Angela Lansbury as her older sister.

To get the coveted part, as one of the screen’s most lovable characters, Taylor had to sign a long-term contract at MGM, where she would remain for the next 18 crucial years of her career.

Many critics declared Taylor as a major discovery.  As a reward for her captivating performance, which showed her beauty, charm, and acting skills, MGM gave Taylor as a gift the horse that was used in the film.

End Note

In 1946, Enid Bagnold’s novel was done as a stage play in London, featuring Tilsa Page as Velvet.  Comparisons were inevitable and most reviewers singled out Elizabeth Tyalor’s interpretation as the stronger one.

Oscar Nominations: 5

Director: Clarence Brown

Supporting Actress: Anne Revere

Film Editing: Robert J. Kern

Cinematography (Color): Leonard Smith

Interior Decoration (Color): Cedric Gibbons and Urie McCleary, art direction; Edwin B. Willis and Mildred Griffiths, set decoration.

Oscar Awards: 2

Supporting Actress

Film Editing

Oscar Context:

Billy Wilder won the Directing Oscar for “The Lost Weekend.”

Leon Shamroy received the Color Cinematography for “Leave Her to Heaven.”

The Art Direction Award went to “Frenchman’s Creek.”

 

Credits

Running time: 123 Minutes.

DVD: Jul 11, 2000