Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Tayor: An Actress Who's "Dream Came Early But Lasted The Rest of Her Life"; National Velvet: A Movie Ahead of Its Time

Elizabeth Taylor passed away today but I'm not going to write about her life: the movies, the marriages, the illnesses or her dedication to humanitarian causes, her beauty......though they are all worthy of being mentioned. Rather, I'd like to concentrate on just one of her films, a family and personal favorite: National Velvet. 

The movie, about a boy, a girl and a horse impressed me many years ago when I first saw it.  I thought of it as a catalyst inspiring young women to go after their dreams no matter how many challenges were thrown in the way. The movie, released in December of 1944 and the book written in 1935 by Enid Bagnold were way ahead of their time.

Mr. and Mrs. Brown (Anne Revere), Velvet's parents.
Elizabeth Taylor was 12 years old when she played the 'girl' in the book. The 'boy' was played by a young Mickey Rooney. She campaigned for the role of Velvet Brown in MGM's National Velvet and was an instant star when the movie was released. Her character and Mickey Rooney train her beloved horse "Pie' to win the British Grand National. Angela Lansbury, then a new British actress, played Edwina her sister and her mother, Anne Revere, was an American actress who was a direct descendant of Paul Revere. An interesting note: many of Ms. Taylor's back problems which haunted her throughout her life began when she was injured falling off a horse during the filming of the movie.

The scene that impressed me the most and still affects me emotionally takes place in the Brown family attic where Velvet and her mother are having a conversation about entering the largest and most difficult of all horse races in England. Her mother, herself a former championship swimmer says to Velvet:

"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."
If nothing else happened in the movie that one scene would have been enough for me but of course that's not the case. The rest of National Velvet is deliciously rich in story, tone, cinematography and message - all masterful enough for the movie to garner 2 Oscar wins (one for mother Anne Revere!) and another for film editing. It was also nominated for Best Art Direction, Cinematography and Best Director.

Another scene, not as worthy but a funny anecdote in our family was a scene when Velvet first sees the horse running at breakneck speed in some nearby fields. When my son was about 7 years old (and to the present day) he did a mean imitation of Ms. Taylor's wispy British accent in the lines recounted below where Velvet names her new horse: 

Velvet: What's his name, Mr. Ede?
Mr. Ede: Name? He's a murderous pirate, not deserving of a name.
Velvet: Oh, no. not pirate. He's a gentle one. I'll just call him Pie. Oh, you're a pretty one, Pie.

If you haven't seen National Velvet I recommend it as a great family film and a tribute to a wonderful American actress who was lost to us today. She was indeed a pretty one. 

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