Classic film finally gets the "velvet touch" it deserves. 4.5 Stars

Clarence Brown’s National Velvet is a heartwarming story of family love, loyalty, and faith and is capped by an earnest and touching performance by the young Elizabeth Taylor in her star-making role.

National Velvet (1944)
Released: 26 Jan 1945
Rated: Passed
Runtime: 123 min
Director: Clarence Brown
Genre: Drama, Family, Sport
Cast: Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor, Donald Crisp
Writer(s): Enid Bagnold, Theodore Reeves, Helen Deutsch
Plot: A jaded former jockey helps a young girl prepare a wild but gifted horse for England's Grand National Sweepstakes.
IMDB rating: 7.3
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: MGM
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: G
Run Time: 2 Hr. 4 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 11/16/2021
MSRP: $21.99

The Production: 4.5/5

Clarence Brown’s National Velvet is a heartwarming story of family love, loyalty, and faith and capped by an earnest and touching performance by the young Elizabeth Taylor in her star-making role. It’s a long film but one whose time passes by effortlessly due to a clutch of memorable character performances (one of which earned an Oscar), an openly sincere striving for excellence by the title character, and by Technicolor so lush and appealing that one could almost eat it with a spoon.

When young Velvet Brown (Elizabeth Taylor) comes into possession of a headstrong gelding who had been giving its previous owner (Reginald Owen) fits, her love of the horse and her faith in its inherent goodness leads her to begin having grandiose dreams for her horse named Pie (short for “Pirate” which the previous owner had thought the horse to be). Former jockey now handyman/horse trainer Mi Taylor (Mickey Rooney) tries to quash Velvet’s dreams of entering Pie in the Grand National Steeplechase, but Velvet, her parents (Anne Revere, Donald Crisp), and later the entire village get behind her efforts to let the horse achieve great things by undergoing an extensive year-long training exhibition attempting to get Pie ready for England’s toughest almost five-mile race.

Theodore Reeves and Helen Deutsch’s screenplay, based on the novel by Enid Bagnold, throws a major spotlight on the Brown family dynamics: a warm, no nonsense mother and a firm father who always takes heed to his wife’s common sense, and four wildly different children: lovestruck Edwina (Angela Lansbury), taciturn Malvolia (Juanita Quigley), mischievous Donald (Jackie “Butch” Jenkins), and dreamy Velvet who lives her life for horses. While Mickey Rooney takes top billing and certainly has a handful of scenes to show his dramatic chops (including fighting his intense desire to rob the family and head off for parts unknown), the movie’s focus most certainly belongs to Elizabeth Taylor and her almost spiritual relationship with the horse. Director Clarence Brown spends considerable screen time showing the intense training getting the Pie ready for all of the course hazards he’ll be facing at the Grand National, and those sequences are quite thrilling as the beautiful horse excels in surmounting almost all obstacles. There’s a lull in the action, however, when the Pie falls ill, but Brown’s sterling direction keeps things tension-filled and never allows the film’s forward momentum to drag. The race itself is so crowded with entries that it’s difficult to keep the Pie’s progress clear for the viewer until the field thins out during the final stretch of the race, but Brown keeps things lively by inserting Rooney’s undersized Mi Taylor desperately trying to get race reports from uppity Arthur Treacher’s snobbish spectator.

Elizabeth Taylor’s earnestness and free spiritedness make her an endearing Velvet Brown with eyes sparkling and that dreamy faraway look that draws in every viewer watching this for either the first or the fiftieth time. Mickey Rooney is more centered and grounded here than was his wont, perhaps more settled knowing he was headed for enlistment in the Army at the completion of this picture. Anne Revere earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her sagely wise and wonderful mother knowing when to push her children and when to let things be, and Donald Crisp is equally effective as the more confused father who always means well but doesn’t always follow through on his initial instincts. Angela Lansbury’s Edwina and Juanita Quigley’s Malvolia rather fade into the background as the movie progresses though Jackie Jenkins’ ornery Donald is placed sporadically front and center by director Brown to tone down the film’s intrinsic sweetness and sentimentality. Other notable character cameos are Reginald Owens’ feisty neighbor, Norma Varden’s kindly schoolteacher, Eugene Loring’s unenthusiastic jockey Taski, and Dennis Hoey’s underhanded Greenford trying his best to swindle Rooney’s Mi out of his gold sovereigns. Look quickly and you’ll see Angela Lansbury’s mother Moyna MacGill placing a wager on a horse at the start of the race.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is faithfully reproduced in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. The image is spotlessly clean (a giant leap from previous tape and disc releases which were dirty and soft) and mostly very sharp except in close-ups where soft focus has been clearly utilized. The Technicolor finally looks as it should with bold hues that are never oversaturated but which make for picture perfect viewing. Unlike previous transfers, there are no problems with color alignment either. The movie has been divided into 33 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is typical for its era and solidly reproduced on this disc. Dialogue, Herbert Stothart’s tender background score, and the myriad sound effects have all been blended seamlessly into a whole, and there are no age-related anomalies like hiss, pops, crackle, or flutter to mar the listening experience.

Special Features: 1/5

Theatrical Trailer (2:42, HD)

Overall: 4.5/5

Warner Archive’s newest release of National Velvet on Blu-ray finally gives us a beautiful version of this family classic that it has long deserved. While one might have wished that such a landmark film would have rated some bonus features worthy of its stature and reputation, the film itself finally looks and sounds wonderful. Highly recommended!

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Matt Hough

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Matt Hough

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Thank you for the great review, Matt!

My order is winging (galloping? ;) ) its way to me from Barnes & Noble now. I upgraded the shipping because this is one release that I need in my hands as soon as possible, so I should have it in the next few days. I can't wait!
I hope you (and Ron) will share your thoughts about the disc once it's been viewed.
 

Will Krupp

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Well Amazon came through with this one a day earlier than it was scheduled and I'm watching it right now. I put it on just to check the video quality and, of course, I'm swept up in its charms and already half way through (I guess it's safe to say I'm watching the whole thing.)

My God but this looks phenomenal! Finally a transfer worthy of this great title. I can't find any fault with it as yet and I'm letting the gorgeous color wash over me as I type, lol.

I haven't seen this movie in a couple of years and I don't know if I'm getting tender in my (ahem) advancing years but I've teared up more than once watching it this go round. (I was an absolute mess when Anne Revere gave Velvet her prize money) It's something I don't remember doing before.

One question I have that maybe someone can answer for me. He's not credited on imdb, but I could swear that that is Bobbie Anderson (the heartbreaking young George Bailey from IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE) as one of the bratty schoolboys singing in the opening scene. I'm sure it's him. Anybody else think maybe so?
 
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Andrew Budgell

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One question I have that maybe someone can answer for me. He's not credited on imdb, but I could swear that that is Bobbie Anderson (the heartbreaking young George Bailey from IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE) as one of the bratty schoolboys singing in the opening scene. I'm sure it's him. Anybody else think maybe so?
Will, do you mean the boy in the window on the left? It's Elizabeth's older brother, Howard. :) He later made another cameo in another of his sister's films, in Boom! (1968).

By some minor miracle, my copy showed up just now! I thought I'd get it release week, but not release day, so the exorbitant shipping costs were well worth it! I've just sampled a few scenes and I'm still pulling my jaw off the ground. It's absolutely breathtaking and incredible what the magicians at Warners have achieved here! I'm looking forward to watching the film from beginning to end tonight. I'm one very happy camper.
 

Will Krupp

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Will, do you mean the boy in the window on the left? It's Elizabeth's older brother, Howard. :) He later made another cameo in another of his sister's films, in Boom! (1968).

Yes, that's him. I had no idea that was her brother! He looks, IMO, just like Bobbie Anderson (he's even around the right age!) Thanks for letting me know.

I'm so happy the blu-ray pleases you! :)
 
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chrislong2

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There are some movies I just could not fathom why they weren't released on Blu years ago - this was one of them. Nice to see it's finally been done and apparently done well. Many of the more "family friendly" oriented movies of times past (outside of the absolute top-tier ones like Sound of Music, It's a Wonderful Life etc) it seems to me have taken a backseat for years to other types, but nice to see ones like Velvet and Yearling finally get their due!
 

RPMay

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While at Turner, I supervised preservation work on film from the original 3-strip negatives. I don't know if the new video master was from the interpositive made then, or from the YCM negatives, but it is gratifying to see the compliments of the new video release.
 

Robert Crawford

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I watched National Velvet for the first time this afternoon and WOW, what a beautiful release of a truly wonderful film. Loved it!
A funny story. Back in the 1960s, Elizabeth Taylor was in the entertainment news all the time so you would see pictures of her in many magazines. Anyhow, my older teenage sisters were watching "National Velvet" on TV. I came in from outside midway into the movie and started watching it with them. After several minutes, I finally said to my sisters that the young actress playing Velvet looks like Elizabeth Taylor in that movie magazine that was in our magazine rack. They started laughing and called me a dope like older siblings usually do to their kid brother. My mother then informed me that was Elizabeth Taylor as a child actress. Anyhow, that was my first exposure to "National Velvet" and knowledge that Elizabeth Taylor was an actress from childhood. To this day, my sisters still kid me about that day as they know movies have been my passion for most of my life.

Thanks for the fine review as I'm still waiting on my Target Blu-ray. I might have it tomorrow as it's in Michigan now.
 

benbess

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Matt H. wrote in his perceptive review: "Anne Revere earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her sagely wise and wonderful mother knowing when to push her children and when to let things be, and Donald Crisp is equally effective as the more confused father who always means well but doesn’t always follow through on his initial instincts."

Although it might seem foolish, one of the reasons I watch movies is to find shreds of wisdom, or life lessons, here and there. In National Velvet Mrs. Brown provides a few of those....

Mrs. Brown : Win or lose, it's all the same. It's how you take it that counts, and knowing when to let go; knowing when it's over and time to go on to the next thing.
Velvet Brown : The next thing?
Mrs. Brown : Things come suitable to the time, Velvet. Enjoy each thing, then forget it and go on to the next. There's a time for everything. There's a time for having a horse in the Grand National, being in love, having children; yes, even for dying. All in proper order at the proper time.
  • Mrs. Brown : That'll be a dispute to the end of time, Mr. Brown: whether it's better to do the right thing for the wrong reason or the wrong thing for the right reason.

  • Mrs. Brown : What's the meaning of goodness if there isn't a little badness to overcome?

  • [Mrs. Brown is talking with Velvet in the attic]
    Mrs. Brown : We're alike. I, too, believe that everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly once in their life. I was twenty when they said a woman couldn't swim the Channel. You're twelve; you think this horse of yours can win the Grand National. Your dream has come early.

Studio_publicity_Anne_Revere.jpeg
liz on horse.jpeg
Annex - Taylor, Elizabeth (National Velvet)_04.jpeg
 
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Robert Crawford

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I watched National Velvet for the first time this afternoon and WOW, what a beautiful release of a truly wonderful film. Loved it!
Finally, my Blu-ray arrives today! I will be watching it today as this 12 year old actress in this fine film looks just like a grown up Elizabeth Taylor circa 1964.:laugh:
 

Robert Crawford

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Finally, my Blu-ray arrives today! I will be watching it today as this 12 year old actress in this fine film looks just like a grown up Elizabeth Taylor circa 1964.:laugh:
The video presentation on this Blu-ray is outstanding. I briefly popped in the 1997 DVD and then watching this Blu-ray is like watching a new movie in comparison. The DVD with the snapper case was released in September, 1997. It's not the oldest DVD in my collection as I've got some DVDs from March-August, 1997 still in my collection. With that said, I can finally delete it from my collection.

As I was watching the movie yesterday, it occurred to me that the story I told earlier in this thread, occurred during the scene in the attic between Velvet and her mother in which her mother retrieved her prize money for swimming the English Channel. That's when I said out loud to my family that young actress looked like Elizabeth Taylor.:) When child actors grow up, some times they look different as adults. Not Liz! She looked older and even more beautiful, but you can tell that was her about 20 years earlier.

The closing scene always left me a little misty eye. Damn, Anne Revere and Donald Crisp were excellent as her parents. Rooney was terrific too.