National Velvet (film)

National Velvet

Original film poster
Directed by Clarence Brown
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay by Helen Deutsch
Based on National Velvet
1935 novel
by Enid Bagnold
Starring Mickey Rooney
Donald Crisp
Elizabeth Taylor
Angela Lansbury
Anne Revere
Reginald Owen
Terry Kilburn
Music by Herbert Stothart
Cinematography Leonard Smith
Edited by Robert Kern
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • December 14, 1944 (1944-12-14)
Running time
123 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2,770,000[1]
Box office $5,840,000[1]

National Velvet is a 1944 American Technicolor sports film directed by Clarence Brown and based on the novel of the same name by Enid Bagnold, published in 1935. It stars Mickey Rooney, Donald Crisp, and a young Elizabeth Taylor.[2][3] In 2003, National Velvet was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."


Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor and The Pie in National Velvet
Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet

National Velvet is the story of a 12-year-old horse-crazy girl, Velvet Brown (Elizabeth Taylor), who lives in the small town of Sewels in Sussex, England, who wins a spirited gelding in a raffle and decides to train him for the Grand National steeplechase. She is aided by a penniless young drifter named Mi Taylor (Mickey Rooney), who found Mrs. Brown's name and address among his late father's effects, but is unaware of what it was doing there. Hoping to gain some money from the association, Mi stays at the Browns' home, but Mrs. Brown is unwilling to allow Mi to trade on his father's good name and remains vague about how she knew him. Nevertheless she convinces her husband (Donald Crisp) to hire Mi over his better judgment, and Mi is brought into the home as a hired hand. It is revealed that Mi had been a jockey in Manchester, but his career ended in a collision which resulted in the death of another jockey. Since then Mi has not held a job, and he has come to hate horses. Velvet decides to call the horse "The Pie" after his owner, Mr. Ede, calls him a pirate. The man decides to be rid of The Pie, and offers him up in a raffle. Velvet wins The Pie, and on realizing the extent of the horse's natural talent, she pleads with Mi to train the horse for the Grand National. He believes it a fool's errand, not because of the horse, but because they have no real way to support the effort. He makes his case to Mrs. Brown, but she consents to Velvet's desire to train the horse. Velvet and Mi train the horse and enter him into the race. An experienced jockey is hired to ride him. The night before the race Velvet senses that the jockey hired to ride The Pie has no faith in him, and doesn't believe the horse can win. Velvet convinces Mi to fire the jockey, leaving them without a rider. That night Mi determines to overcome his fears and ride The Pie himself. Instead, he discovers that Velvet has slipped on the jockey's colors, and intends to ride the horse in the race herself. Aware of the dangers of such a race, Mi tries to reason with Velvet, but is unable to talk her out of it. As the race unfolds Velvet and The Pie avoid a number of falls, clear all the hurdles and win the race. Elated by their win, Velvet faints and falls off her mount at the finish. As she is revived the race doctor realizes she is not a young man, but a young woman. As such she and The Pie are disqualified, but Velvet knows The Pie proved himself. Velvet becomes a media sensation, declining an offer of £5,000 to travel to Hollywood with The Pie to be filmed. She ran The Pie at the Grand National because he deserved to have a chance. He wasn't an oddity to be stared at. Velvet tearfully refuses the offer claiming that The Pie wouldn't like being stared at. Velvet chooses to have a normal life with The Pie. At the close of the film Mi takes his leave, and Mrs. Brown gives Velvet permission to reveal to him the nature of her relationship with his father. Velvet rides off to catch up with Mi and tell him that his father had been Mrs. Brown's coach when she won the prize as the first woman to swim the English Channel, many years before.

The film differs from the book in a number of respects. For example, Velvet's horse is a piebald, and thus is given the name "The Piebald" or "The Pie" for short. In the movie, Pie is a chestnut, so it was necessary to come up with another explanation for his name. Velvet, in the book, is a sickly child who is given to great imagination and spirit; her father is stern and given to anger, but the mother is stronger still and will stand up to him when she has to. Since her days as a swimmer she has become a large woman, and weighs 16 stone224 pounds (102 kg) at the time of the story, and warns Velvet never to allow herself to be weighed down with weight. In the book Mr. Brown and Mrs. Brown have a 15-year-old daughter named Meredith giving them five children named Edwina, Meredith, Malvolia, Velvet, and Donald. Meredith isn't seen or mentioned in the movie.


Lansbury, Quigley and Kilburn are the last surviving primary cast members.

Production notes

An 18-year-old Gene Tierney, who was then appearing on Broadway, was offered the role of Velvet Brown in 1939. Production was delayed, however, so Tierney returned to Broadway.[5] Much of the film was shot in Pebble Beach, California, with the most-scenic views on the Pebble Beach Golf Links[6] (with golf holes visible in the background). Elizabeth Taylor was given "The Pie" as a birthday gift after filming was over.

This was the first of two films casting Elizabeth Taylor and Anne Revere. The other film, A Place in the Sun, featured Revere as the mother of Taylor's love interest, played by Montgomery Clift. In that film, however, the two actresses never shared the screen with each other in any scene.

Mickey Rooney's scenes were shot first in one month allotted by the US Army before Rooney was inducted in June 1944.[7]



National Velvet currently holds a 100% 'Fresh' rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[8]

It was very successful at the box office earning $3,678,000 in the US and Canada and $2,162,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $785,000.[1]

Academy Awards

The film won two Oscars, and was nominated for three others, in 1945:[9]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipients and nominees Result
Academy Awards March 7, 1946 Best Actress in a Supporting Role Anne Revere Won
Best Director Clarence Brown Nominated
Best Cinematography, Color Leonard Smith
Best Art Direction – Interior Decoration, Color Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons and Urie McCleary;
Interior Decoration: Edwin B. Willis and Mildred Griffiths
Best Film Editing Robert J. Kern Won

Other adaptations


In 1978, a sequel, International Velvet, was released. The film stars Tatum O'Neal, Christopher Plummer, Anthony Hopkins, and Nanette Newman, who plays Velvet Brown as an adult. After the events of "National Velvet" Donald got married, had a daughter named Sarah Velvet Brown, and moved from England to Cave Creek, Arizona. Sarah comes to live with Velvet and her boyfriend John after Donald and his wife die from their injuries in a car accident. Elizabeth Taylor did not reprise her role as Velvet in the sequel.


  1. 1 2 3 "The Eddie Mannix Ledger". Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study{{inconsistent citations}}
  2. Variety film review; December 6, 1944, page 14.
  3. Harrison's Reports film review; December 9, 1944, page 199.
  4. Eagan, Daniel (2010). America's film legacy : the authoritative guide to the landmark movies in the National Film Registry ([Online-Ausg.]. ed.). New York: Continuum. p. 380. ISBN 978-0826429773.
  5. Tierney and Herskowitz (1978) Wyden Books. "Self-Portrait". pg.23
  6. "Monterey Movie Tours!". Monterey Movie Tours!. 2003-08-10. Retrieved 2016-10-26.
  8. National Velvet at Rotten Tomatoes
  9. "NY Times: National Velvet". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  10. Bryan Forbes. "International Velvet". ISBN 9780749710323. Retrieved 2016-10-26.
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