Sunday, August 22, 2010

Darker than Mr. Chips

Although Robert Donat was the star of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, TCM included it in today's lineup as part of a 24-hour salute to British actor John Mills. A lot of Mills' movies airing today have him in supporting roles, including The Rocking Horse Winner, which comes up at 10:15 PM ET.

The stars are Valerie Hobson and Hugh Sinclair, who play a married couple living well above their means in post-war Britain. She, like any wife, spends and spends almost compulsively; he, meanwhile, wagers on the ponies and consistently loses. They're far enough in debt that they're forced to be supported by their aristocratic uncle (Ronald Squire). Into all of this walks John Mills as a combination gardener/handyman. Mills has an odd effect. The combination of his presence, and a toy rocking horse the family's son received, gives the boy the power to predict the winners of horse races if only he rides the horse hard enough. Winning money on the horses could provide a way out of the family's financial predicament, but riding the horse that hard seems to have a negative effect on the boy....

The Rocking Horse Winner is a strange and dark movie in a whole host of ways. There's a lot of Freudian subtext: first, the boy seems at times to be entirely too close to his mother, almost like an Oedipus complex. Secondly, the way the boy rides the horse, and the emotional state he reaches when he finally gets the name of the winner, is like -- well, I think you can figure out what it's supposed to be like.

The movie has one of those ensemble casts that British movies of the early post-war era tended to have, and they work well together with no one performance really overshadowing any of the others. That's a good thing here, since the movie is more about the disturbing atmosphere, which is allowed to come to the fore in spades.

The Rocking Horse Winner has also been released to DVD.

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