Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Remembering Elizabeth Taylor in "National Velvet"

One of the more amazing aspects of Elizabeth Taylor’s story is just how long a career she enjoyed. She began making movies at age ten in 1942 and by 1944 starred as plucky Velvet Brown in Clarence Brown’s National Velvet. This picture has a lot to offer today’s young viewer. Velvet is a hard-working, horse-loving gal. And after she’s dealt the ruling that—as a female—she could not jockey her horse in the Grand National Steeplechase, she lops off her hair and rides as a boy. Velvet ultimately gives up a chance at fame for herself and her beloved horse, The Pie, because—you heard me right—it wouldn’t be so great for the horse. Velvet was strong, thoughtful, and kind; she had character. And any parent of any era would be proud of such a daughter. The movie gives surprisingly modern messages to girls: the sky’s the limit; and barriers are there to be busted wide open.

National Velvet also resonates in the depiction of a refreshing and unusual mother-daughter relationship. Anne Revere as Velvet’s mother is a strong, centered, calm woman who speaks to Velvet with so much respect, it’s almost jarring. She’s not a touch-feely, cover-you-in-kisses screen mom, but a compelling mentor to a young girl on the verge of becoming a woman. Mrs. Brown never talks down to Velvet or pulls her punches; and she never loses her temper. She’s the picture of the wise center that holds the family together. I always loved the fact that her character was a famous channel swimmer in her day, but doesn’t live in the shadow of her former glory. And young Liz holds her own in her scenes with Revere, a character just as strong as mom. As Velvet, the bright-eyed, vibrant Elizabeth Taylor is the promise of the grand star she was to become.

On a side note, Hitchcock favorite Farley Granger just passed away. Granger had a wonderful turn as Niels, the tempestuous ballet master in Charles Vidor’s 1952 film, Hans Christian Andersen. It’s an adorable, singable musical that puts children at its center in a not-at-all accurate but entertaining bio-pic. The film can be seen in its entirety at Fancast.com.

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