National Velvet | MGM | Clarence Brown | 1944
Clarence Brown has done it again! Putative schlock, which you’d think to be etched into the DNA of a story you can’t imagine in any other than a most saccharine channel. And it’s saccharine, sure, but more sugarcane than corn syrup. It’s what Meet Me in St. Louis achieved the same year: real, serious, honest-to-god sentimentality that perhaps bludgeons for effect at some times (and why not?), but then also subtly proceeds from nuances of character and direction, rarefied strains of pathos it takes a committed craftsman to distill. The family dynamic here depicted is a marvel unto itself – Donald Crisp and Anne Revere dabble in mock sternness, wisps of idiosyncratic warmth, and a kind of practiced marital sparring that has calcified into a reserved, playful wit lovingly passed around (the dialogue seems to waltz at times!). The would-be storybook didacticism of childhood faith and dreams-come-true is buttressed by a real literary treatment, mostly courtesy of Revere, whose every uttered word is a tonic for the soul. Choices are made with regard to color (a prose poem could be devoted to the way the color green is used here – captured in scenic saturated glory for the on-location shots and studio-lit to a twinkling emerald for some of the evening-set interiors) and production design (how the California-constructed town of Sewels comes to embody a rural England of the ripest imagination, I’ll never quite understand) that should justify the Hollywood studio apparatus to one and all! Even the world-cinema enthusiasts who treat Old Hollywood with a condescending shamefacedness, as some necessary evil from which was spawned their preferred ‘edgier’ or ‘artsier’ or ‘transgressive’ fare. All that stuff is fine, but movie magic of this caliber it is, quite frankly, not! I wish you all a love worthy of young Velvet’s for her cherished Pie! Until next time, Bravado Bros!