Zing Zing Zing Went My Heartstrings!
“Someday you’ll learn that greatness is only the seizing of opportunity – clutching with your bare hands ’til the knuckles show white.”
Sometimes I just want to watch a comforting movie. Not often, but if I’m at home doing an art project or feeling sick, I go for the familiarity of a movie from my childhood. Recently I rewatched National Velvet, the 1944 film starring Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney and Angela Lansbury. I used to watch this all the time, and now I remember why. It’s almost painfully honest, morally refreshing, and surprisingly modern in its portrayal of family relationships and female ambition.
“National Velvet” was Elizabeth Taylor’s fifth film; she was only twelve when she played Velvet Brown, and her acting hadn’t quiiiite matured beyond so-earnest-it-hurts-your-teeth levels. Of course, her beauty was already otherworldly, and knowing the same actress would soon be such an insane sex goddess just a few years later is kind of a mindfuck.
The real draw here is the supporting cast, especially Anne Revere as Velvet’s mother, AKA my favorite movie mother EVER. Revere won a best supporting actress Oscar for her portrayal of Mrs. Brown, an original and complex character who you kind of wish the movie was entirely about. Talk about a missed opportunity for a prequel (though they wisely didn’t do many of those in the 40’s): in the film, Mrs. Brown is the first woman to swim the English Channel, and she has saved her prize money to give to her children. When Velvet approaches her to ask if she can race her horse in the Grand National, instead of telling her what a silly idea that is, Mrs. Brown delivers this impossibly wise and heart-wrenching speech:
“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.”
ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?! BEST MOM EVER! “Breathtaking piece of folly” is sheer brilliance. I love how she expects her daughter to understand the emotional complexities of having an impossible dream that will probably not come true, but chasing it anyway.
And speaking of emotional complexity, Anne Revere was one of the actors whose career was pretty much ruined by her refusal to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1951. She resigned from the board of the Screen Actors Guild and didn’t appear in another film for 20 years (thanks, Wikipedia). What a waste!
I wasn’t one of those horse girls when I was young, though I did go riding every summer at the Oregon coast (riding a horse on the beach is pretty majestic, and anyone who says otherwise just hasn’t developed a taste for majesty) and obviously watched this movie on a regular basis. But you know how when you’re a kid, you either ARE a horse person or you KNOW a horse person? I had this really good friend who was ALL ABOUT HORSES. It was probably the first time in my life when I felt like I couldn’t make fun of one of my friends (in a nice way!) because their interest was so fierce, so it just felt wrong to be like, “oh, what’s on your sweatshirt? Another horse?”
What I’m saying is that any bias about horse lovers or kids movies should absolutely not keep you from watching National Velvet. Especially if you’re in need of a little heart warming. This movie will toast your heart until it’s cozy and crispy.