In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s obvious from the second she appears that Elizabeth Taylor was destined for stardom.”
“I want it all quickly ’cause I don’t want God to stop and think and wonder if I’m getting more than my share.”
My entire life, Elizabeth Taylor was the once great actress who’d become a punchline. Jokes about her many marriages, jokes about her friendship with Michael Jackson as he was starting to transition from King of Pop to King of Weirdoes, jokes about her age and weight. I always knew she had been a legit star, but that era was decades before I was born. I’ve only seen a handful of her movies, and the only really great performance in that handful is her work on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. But even with that limited experience, I figured I understood Elizabeth Taylor ‘s stardom and what she was all about. But it turns out, before her sexpot roles, she also had a career as a child star that kicked off when she was only 12, totally nailing it in National Velvet.
Mi (Mickey Rooney) arrives in a small, quaint English seaside village looking for Mrs Brown (Anne Revere). Mi’s father has recently died, and Mi found Mrs Brown’s name and address in his belongings. With no idea what the connection is, Mi thinks that at the very least, he might be able to score some cash out of Mrs Brown. When he arrives, Mrs Brown is cagey about how she knew his father, but convinces her husband (Donald Crisp) to hire Mi in their butcher shop.
At home with the Browns, Mi also meets their spirited 12 year old daughter, Velvet (Taylor). Obsessed with horses, Velvet becomes infatuated with an out of control gelding, owned by a neighbour. When it escapes and runs amuck through the village, the owner has to raffle the horse off to pay for the damages caused. A raffle that is won by Velvet. When Velvet learns that Mi used to work as a jockey and trainer, she begs him to train her new horse, now named The Pie, believing they can go all the way to the Grand National.
It’s funny, at the time of making this movie, Mickey Rooney was the big star with his name most prominent on the poster. Elizabeth Taylor was a new name and face no one had ever seen before. And watching the movie, you can see that it tries to make the Mi character a little more front and centre than Velvet, attempting to capitalise on Rooney’s star power. But it’s obvious from the second she appears that Elizabeth Taylor was destined for stardom. Mi might get the redemption story arch, but Velvet gets all of the attention, whether the story was written that way or not.
National Velvet is pure fluff. But it was made at a time when pure fluff was done right. The sentimentality oozes out of the screen, the acting is big and broad, and the feel good story string pulling is about as subtle as Mickey Rooney’s acting. But there’s also a wide eyed innocence to movies like National Velvet and its contemporaries that makes it all OK.