AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
National Velvet
Director: Clarence Brown (Dir)
Release Date:   26 Jan 1945
Premiere Information:   World premiere in New York: 14 Dec 1944
Production Date:   mid-Jan--26 Jun 1944
Duration (in mins):   123-125
Duration (in feet):   11,087
Duration (in reels):   13
Print this page
Display Movie Summary


Cast:   Mickey Rooney (Mi Taylor)  
    Donald Crisp (Mr. [Herbert] Brown)  
    Elizabeth Taylor (Velvet Brown)  
    Anne Revere (Mrs. [Araminty] Brown)  
    Angela Lansbury (Edwina Brown)  
    Jackie Jenkins (Donald Brown)  
    Juanita Quigley (Malvolia Brown)  
    Arthur Treacher (Race patron)  
    Reginald Owen (Farmer Ede)  
    Norma Varden (Miss Simms)  
    Terry Kilburn (Ted)  
    Arthur Shields (Mr. Hallam)  
    Aubrey Mather (Entry official)  
    Alec Craig (Tim)  
    Eugene Loring (I[van] Taski)  
    Dennis Hoey (Mr. Greenford)  
    Matthew Boulton (Entry official)  
    Gerald Oliver Smith (Photographer)  
    King Charles, a horse (The Pie)  
    Frederic Worlock (Stewart)  
    Harry Allen (Van driver)  
    Rene Austin (Schoolgirl)  
    Jane Isbell (Schoolgirl)  
    Virginia McDowall (Schoolgirl)  
    Gail Peyton (Schoolgirl)  
    Iris Kirksey (Schoolgirl)  
    Bertha Stinchfield (Schoolgirl)  
    Felicity Bilbrook (Schoolgirl)  
    Paula Allen (Schoolgirl)  
    Rhoda Williams (Schoolgirl)  
    Beverly Billman (Schoolgirl)  
    Stephen Rowson (Schoolboy)  
    Harold deBecker Jr. (Schoolboy)  
    Richard Haydel (Schoolboy)  
    Howard Taylor (Schoolboy)  
    Murray Coombs (Schoolboy)  
    Billy Bevan (Constable)  
    Barry Macollum (Townsman)  
    Leland Hodgson (Press man)  
    Leonard Carey (Press man)  
    Barry Bernard (Press man)  
    Frank Benson (Englishman)  
    Wally Cassell (Jockey)  
    Alec Harford (Valet)  
    William Austin (Reporter)  
    Colin Campbell (Cockney)  
    Olaf Hytten (Villager)  
    George Kirby (Villager)  
    Ada Ellis (Villager)  
    Stanley Mann (Villager)  
    Frank Baker (Villager)  
    Doris Stone (Villager)  
    Lotus Thompson (Villager)  
    Al Ferguson (Villager)  
    Jack Lee (Assistant checker)  
    Wallis Clark (Clerk of scales)  
    John Rogers (Bookie)  
    William Bailey (Bookie)  
    Rose Langdon (Bookie)  
    Arthur Blake (Assistant bookie)  
    Charles Irwin (Starter)  
    Donald Curtis (American)  
    Gordon Richards (Doctor)  
    Joy Harrington (Nurse)  
    Wilbur Mack (Committee man)  
    Arthur Gould-Porter (Attendant)  
    Major Douglas Francis (Track official)  
    Eric Wilton (English bookie)  
    Moyna MacGill    

Summary: In the English coastal village of Sewels in Sussex, twelve-year-old Velvet Brown and her older sisters, Edwina and Malvolia, happily finish their last day of school before summer vacation. While walking home, Velvet meets young drifter Mi Taylor and strikes up a conversation with him. As the horse-crazy girl is talking to Mi, she sees a beautiful, rambunctious gelding being chased by its owner, farmer Ede, and is awestruck. When Ede then questions Mi about his business in Sewels in Sussex, Velvet, who is impressed by Mi's knowledge of horses, insists that he has been invited to dine with her family. That evening at dinner, Mrs. Brown asks Mi, whom she has never before met, about an address book with her name written in it, and he reveals that it belonged to his now-deceased father. Although Mrs. Brown is deliberately secretive about her relationship with Mi's father, she does invite Mi to spend the night in the stable. Velvet then tries in vain to convince her father Herbert, a butcher who prides himself on his thrift and self-control, to hire Mi as a delivery boy. When he and his wife discuss the matter later, however, the wise, persuasive Mrs. Brown easily changes his mind. Later, Velvet confesses to her mother that she has "fallen in love" with The Pie and asks her about Mi's father. Mrs. Brown, a former swimmer, reveals that when she was twenty, Mi's father was her devoted trainer and inspired her to swim the English Channel, a feat never before accomplished by a woman. Mrs. Brown adds that she declined to tell the obviously embittered Mi about his father because she felt that it was not the proper time to do so. Unaware that he has just stolen all of her mother's savings from the kitchen, Velvet rushes to tell Mi the news about his new job and home. Mi covers up his theft and accepts the job, then, chagrined, sneaks back to the kitchen to return the money. Later, Velvet coaxes Mi into taking her on a delivery to farmer Ede's, and on the way, Mi states that he was once thrown by a horse and now hates them. As they are watching The Pie in the field, the horse jumps Ede's wall and dashes off toward town. After estimating the length of the horse's jump, the astounded Mi mutters that The Pie could jump "Beecher's Brook." The Pie's subsequent rampage through the village leads Ede to decide to raffle off the horse. Mr. Brown at first refuses to allow Velvet to participate in the raffle, but when Mi proudly announces that he has bought tickets for all of the children, Mr. Brown relents. Although Velvet confidently proclaims that her number, 62, is going to be selected, another number is drawn, and Velvet collapses with disappointment. Later, however, Velvet learns that when the winning number was not claimed, a second number, 62, was drawn, and she is awarded The Pie. Velvet then asks Mi about "Beecher's Brook" and he reluctantly reveals that it is a difficult jump at the Grand National Steeplechase course. Velvet spends her first day with The Pie racing through the countryside, but her joy is cut short when her father insists that the horse earn his keep by pulling the delivery cart. As soon as he is hitched, however, The Pie bolts and destroys the cart, causing Mr. Brown to denounce Mi as a meddler. Later, Velvet reveals to Mi that she wrote away to the Aintree race course for entrance papers to the Grand National Steeplechase. Although Mi tries to discourage her, Velvet asks her mother for permission to enter the race, which includes a 100-pound entrance fee. After Mi admits that The Pie is good enough to win, Mrs. Brown gives Velvet the 100 pounds she earned for her Channel swim, which she has been saving in anticipation of a "breath-taking piece of folly" like The Pie. Mrs. Brown and Velvet then entrust Mi to deliver the money to Aintree, and although he is tempted to abscond with it while in London, Mi carries out his assignment, impressing even Mr. Brown. When Mi tells Velvet that he was unable to find a jockey or a trainer in London, she persuades him to train the horse by promising him one-half of any Grand National winnings. Over the next several months, Velvet and Mi, a former jockey, rigorously train The Pie. During the winter, The Pie becomes seriously ill, and the entire Brown family worries as Mi struggles to save him. The Pie survives, and come spring, Velvet and Mi leave for Aintree. There they meet with Ivan Taski, a Latvian jockey whom Mi hired through the mail. Taski's lackluster attitude toward the race convinces both Velvet and Mi that they cannot win with him, and on the eve of the contest, they find themselves with no jockey. Velvet then tries to convince Mi to ride The Pie, but he tearfully refuses, explaining that during a race in Manchester, he pushed his horse too hard and caused a collision that resulted in the death of another jockey. Later, however, when Mi is alone with The Pie, he realizes he must challenge his fears in order to make Velvet's dream come true. After riding The Pie around the track, Mi rushes to tell Velvet that he wants to race, but discovers that she has donned jockey clothes and is determined to ride the race herself. Although Mi tells her that she will be disqualified, Velvet insists that Mi cut her hair and help her with her impersonation. Claiming not to speak English, Velvet convinces the officials that she is Taski and undertakes the arduous race, with The Pie at one-hundred-to-one odds. As horse after horse drops out, Velvet steadily gains ground and wins the race, cheered on by a joyful Mi. Just after finishing, however, Velvet collapses from exhaustion, and the track doctor soon discovers her true sex. As predicted, The Pie is disqualified, but Velvet is nonetheless heralded as a hero throughout England and earns the nickname "National Velvet." Later, back in Sewels in Sussex, Velvet is besieged by lucrative job offers, including one from a Hollywood film studio. Velvet is tempted by the offer until she learns that the studio also wants The Pie. Fearing that The Pie would be made into a sideshow, Velvet tells her father she is not interested. Mr. Brown is angered by Velvet's decision until Mrs. Brown explains that Velvet knows intuitively that her time in the limelight must be brief and dignified. Soon after, as Mi is packing to go, Mr. Brown admits that he always mistrusted him, but is now proud to have known him. Mi leaves the Brown home without saying goodbye, but a grateful Velvet races after him, sure that the proper time has come to tell him about his father. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's Inc.)
Production Text: A Clarence Brown Production
Distribution Company: Loew's Inc.  
Director: Clarence Brown (Dir)
  Joseph Boyle (Asst dir)
Producer: Pandro S. Berman (Prod)
Writer: Theodore Reeves (Scr)
  Helen Deutsch (Scr)
  Howard Dimsdale (Contr to adpt)
Photography: Leonard Smith (Dir of photog)
  Robert Gough (2d cam)
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons (Art dir)
  Urie McCleary (Art dir)
Film Editor: Robert J. Kern (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis (Set dec)
  Mildred Griffiths (Assoc)
Costumes: Irene (Cost supv)
  Kay Dean (Assoc)
  Valles (Men's ward)
Music: Herbert Stothart (Mus score)
Sound: Douglas Shearer (Rec dir)
  Charles E. Wallace (Unit mixer)
  Robert W. Shirley (Re-rec and eff mixer)
  Newell Sparks (Re-rec and eff mixer)
  Michael Steinore (Re-rec and eff mixer)
  Earl Cates (Mus mixer)
  M. J. McLaughlin (Mus mixer)
  William J. Saracino (Mus mixer)
Special Effects: Warren Newcombe (Spec eff)
  Mark Davis (Spec eff cam)
  A. Arnold Gillespie (Transparency projection shots)
Make Up: Jack Dawn (Makeup created by)
Production Misc: Egon Heep (Elizabeth Taylor's horse trainer)
Color Personnel: Natalie Kalmus (Technicolor col consultant)
  Henri Jaffa (Assoc)
Country: United States
Language: English

Source Text: Based on the novel National Velvet by Enid Bagnold (New York, 1935).
Authors: Enid Bagnold

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Loew's Inc. 19/12/1944 dd/mm/yyyy LP13036 Yes

PCA NO: 10321
Physical Properties: col: Technicolor
  Sd: Western Electric Sound System

 
Genre: Drama
  Drama
Sub-Genre: Horse race
  Youth
 
Subjects (Major): Adolescents
  England
  Family relationships
  Horses
  Obsession
  Steeplechasing
 
Subjects (Minor): Aintree Racetrack (England)
  Butchers
  Children
  Fame
  Grand National Steeplechase
  Guilt
  Hair
  Hired hands
  Jockeys
  London (England)
  Male impersonation
  Physicians
  Raffles
  Robbery
  Self-confidence
  Village life
  Wagers
  Wishes

Note: Contemporary sources add the following information about the production: 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 (see above entry.) "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 MacGill, who appears in a walk-on role in the picture, was Angela Lansbury's mother. National Velvet marked 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. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   16 Dec 1944.   
Daily Variety   6 Dec 44   p. 3.
Film Daily   6 Dec 44   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Jun 37   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   29 May 39   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Feb 43   p. 3, 13
Hollywood Reporter   19 Feb 43   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Feb 43   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Apr 43   p. 1, 10
Hollywood Reporter   2 Apr 43   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Jun 43   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Jul 43   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Nov 43   p. 1, 8
Hollywood Reporter   16 Nov 43   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Nov 43   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Dec 43   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Jan 44   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Jan 44   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Feb 44   p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Mar 44   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   31 Mar 44   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   4 May 44   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   19 May 44   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   23 May 44   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Jun 44   p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Jun 44   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Jun 44   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Jun 44   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Sep 44   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Dec 44   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Dec 44   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Dec 44   pp. 1-2.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Dec 44   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Dec 44   p. 3.
Life   2 Jan 1945.   
Look   20 Feb 1945.   
Motion Picture Daily   2 Mar 38   p. 2.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   18 Feb 44   p. 1763.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   9 Dec 44   p. 2213.
New York Times   15 Dec 44   p. 25.
New York Times   3 Jun 1945.   
Variety   6 Dec 44   p. 14.
Victoria Magazine   1 Oct 92   p. 48, 50

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
Advanced Search
Join us for the DWW Open House
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film

© 2014 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.