NATIONAL VELVET (1945) C 123m dir: Clarence Brown
w/Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor, Donald Crisp, Anne Revere, Angela Lansbury, Jackie "Butch" Jenkins, Juanita Quigley, Arthur Treacher, Reginald Owen, Norma Varden, Terry Kilburn, Arthur Shields, Aubrey Mather, Alec Craig, Eugene Loring, Dennis Hoey, Matthew Boulton, Gerald Oliver Smith
From The Movie Guide: "Perhaps the only time Elizabeth Taylor's costar matched her visual scene stealing. He's a horse, albeit a gelding. One of MGM's most beloved films, NATIONAL VELVET was the picture that made a star out of Taylor. The place is Sussex, England, where radiant Velvet Brown (Taylor) wins a horse that she names Pie and plans to enter in the Grand National. With the help if Mi Taylor (Rooney) she begins to rigorously train the animal, though she hasn't the money to enter the National. But Velvet's mother (Anne Revere) has been saving money she won as a young girl by swimming the English Channel, and she parts with it so Velvet can enter the race. Velvet, Mi and the horse then go off on their adventurous quest for the Grand National title. The movie features one of the best horse racing sequences ever filmed, as well as a host of winning performances. Although Taylor had already made her mark in four films, this was the one that really thrust her into the spotlight. Surprisingly she was not the first choice for the role, as Katharine Hepburn, Shirley Temple, and Margaret Sullavan were all candidates to play it. Angela Lansbury finally got one young role that wasn't opportunistic --- here she's dreamy and romantic --- English peaches and cream. And Jackie 'Butch' Jenkins is an outstanding little brother, so ugly his cuteness makes you smile even hours after the movie. The film was remade as INTERNATIONAL VELVET starring Tatum O'Neal, and we grow ashen whenever we think of it."
From the AFI Catalog website (www.catalog.afi.com), this article about the film:
"In 1935, Paramount Pictures acquired the rights to Enid Bagnold's novel, besting RKO producer Pandro S. Berman, who was reportedly seeking the property as a vehicle for Katharine Hepburn. Leatrice Joy Gilbert, John Gilbert's daughter, was being considered by Paramount for the lead at that time, but because of casting difficulties, Paramount sold the rights to M-G-M in 1937. M-G-M planned to make the film in England with Hunt Stromberg as producer, and in Jun 1937, tested Leslie Ruth, actor Leslie Howard's daughter, for the role of 'Velvet.' In Mar 1938, Spencer Tracy was announced as a possible star, and in May 1939, 'Suicide,' a well-known jumping horse, was sought for the film. With the outbreak of war in Europe, the project was shelved, until 1941, when Berman, now an M-G-M producer, revived it. In early 1943, M-G-M undertook an extensive search for a female lead and sent a scout to Canada to test actresses who could convincingly play a teenage English girl. Billy Grady scouted Broadway actresses in late Feb 1943. Patsy Lee Parsons, Pat Arno and Alix de Kauffman were among the actresses who were tested for 'Velvet.' Sara Allgood was tested for a major character role in Jul 1943, but was not cast.
"In early Nov 1943, Clarence Brown took over direction of the picture from Mervin LeRoy after Brown signed a new contract, agreeing to stay with M-G-M. Judith Anderson was tested for a role in mid-Nov 1943. At the same time, Brown was scouting Southern California and Arizona horse ranches for locations and horses. In Dec 1943, Brown was reportedly working on a final polish of the script, and was expanding the role of child actor Jackie Jenkins, with whom he had recently worked on The Human Comedy .... 'King Charles,' the horse who played The Pie, and his equine stand-in traveled in a special truck designed by Brown. Six weeks of location shooting was done on the coast near Monterey, CA, while scenes depicting the Aintree Racetrack were shot at the Uplifters' Ranch and at the Midwick Country Club in Alhambra, CA. HR reported in late Sep 1944 that, as an experiment, Brown was going to delete all background music and noise from the final race sequence. The completed scene, however, does contain background noise. Although Robert Coleman, Jimmy Aubrey, George Davis and Mona Freeman were announced as cast members in HR, their appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. Howard Taylor, who plays a schoolboy in the film, is Elizabeth Taylor's brother, while Moyna McGill, who appears in a walk-on role in the picture, was Angela Lansbury's mother. National Velvet was the first film in which Lansbury and her mother appeared together.
"Although not her debut film, National Velvet marked Elizabeth Taylor's first major screen role and is considered by critics to be the film that propelled her into stardom. Many reviewers commented on her performance in the picture. The DV reviewer announced that Taylor 'is fated for a great name in pictures,' while the HR critic commented that 'stardom is inevitable for her.' Bosley Crowther of the NYT wrote that Taylor's 'face is alive with youthful spirit, her voice has the softness of sweet song and her whole manner in this picture is one of refreshing grace.' In her autobiography, Taylor claimed that after M-G-M renewed its interest in the story, she was called into Berman's office for an interview. Although the eleven-year-old Taylor, who spent her early childhood in England, spoke easily with an English accent and had been riding horses since she was three, Berman felt she was too short and slight to make a convincing Velvet. Determined to get the role, Taylor announced that she would 'grow up' in time for the production, and began eating huge 'farm breakfasts' every morning for three months. According to her autobiography, Taylor did, in fact, grow three inches and, after agreeing to a long-term contract with the studio, was awarded the part. Fred Zinnemann directed her screen test, according to HR. Taylor said of the film: 'I think Velvet is still the most exciting film I've ever done. And at the end, to be given the horse on my thirteenth birthday --- well, it was one of the moments of my life.' Taylor performed her own riding in the picture and commented in her autobiography that she 'was the only person who could ride him [King Charles].' (According to modern sources, Taylor was thrown by the horse during filming and suffered a life-long back injury.)
"National Velvet was nominated for Academy Awards in the following categories: Best Direction, Best Art Direction (Color) and Best Cinematography (Color). Anne Revere won the Oscar as Best Supporting Actress, while Robert J. Kern won for Best Film Editing. Kern's editing of the final steeplechase sequence earned him special notice by critics; the Newsweek critic raved that the racing scene was among the most memorable in film history. In Jun 1945, National Velvet became one of the first films to be selected by the Library of Congress for their motion picture collection. According to a NYT article, the film was chosen because it faithfully recorded, in one way or another, 'the contemporary life and tastes and preferences of the American people.'
"On 3 Feb 1947, Taylor and Rooney reprised their roles from National Velvet for a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast, and on 6 Oct 1949, the Hallmark Playhouse broadcast a version starring Roddy McDowell. Bryan Forbes directed Tatum O'Neal, Nanette Newman, Christopher Plummer and Anthony Hopkins in a 1978 sequel to National Velvet called International Velvet. In the British-made sequel, O'Neal plays the grown Velvet's (Newman's) niece, who dreams of racing her horse in the Olympics. A television series based on National Velvet, also titled National Velvet, aired on the NBC network from 18 Sep 1960 to 10 Sep 1962. Lori Martin played Velvet in the series, and Arthur Space played her father."
NATIONAL VELVET won two Oscars: Best Supporting Actress (Revere) and Editing (Robert J. Kern). It was also nominated for Best Director, Cinematography (Leonard Smith), and Art Direction (Cedric Gibbons, Urie McCleary, Edwin B. Willis, Mildred Griffiths).