The beautifully told film National Velvet, which is based on the bestseller by Enid Bagnold and was adapted by Helen Deutsch and Theodore Reeves tells the story of the winsome 12 year old Velvet (Elizabeth Taylor) and the trials and tribulations she experiences with the surly young gelding named The Pi that she adores. Velvet acquires the somewhat skiddish gelding at a raffle in her small English village. Velvet’s love for the horse grows and the two begin to form a special bond. Velvet then goes toe to toe with Mi Taylor (Mickey Rooney) a down-on-his-luck ex Jockey who encounters Velvet’s family while crossing the English countryside. Velvet’s parents, Mr. Brown (Donald Crisp) and Mrs. Brown (Anne Revere) take in Mi and give him a job as a delivery boy for the family’s butchery business. Although Mi is bitter about horses (since his racing career was cut short due to a serious accident), he sees how much Velvet loves The Pi and feels compelled to help her with the horse. Velvet believes The Pi is the most gifted horse in England and through sheer determination, decides to enter him into The Grand National Steeplechase, a grueling horse race in which she eventually rides herself. While the steeplechase sequences are admittedly heart-pounding, the culmination of the race and subsequent action afterwards comes off as a bit overly sentimental. Still the story is a rousing and well-told one and the film makes its mark as one of the best horse pictures in the history of cinema.
The gorgeous editing, great production values and a stellar cast make National Velvet a real thing of beauty. The film,which was directed by Clarence Brown, scored an impressive five Academy Award nominations in 1945 including Best Director (for Brown), Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography. The film converted two of it’s nominations into Oscar gold. The first was for Best Film Editing (for Robert Kern)- mostly for Kern’s masterful work on the dizzying, quick cut, kinetic energy he created in the Steeplechase scenes. The second of the film’s two Oscars went to Anne Revere, winner, (144), for her role as Velvet’s mother, Mrs. Brown. Revere is splendid in the role of Mrs. Brown- possessing equal parts earth mother and formidable former athlete. Mrs. Brown is wholly committed to the well-being of her family, but she recognizes the fire inside Velvet to become a national champion. Mrs. Brown’s backstory is compelling and Revere delivers it with a deft touch. This was Revere’s second of three Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress and her only win.