Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Rocking Horse Winner

TCM showed The Rocking Horse Winner last night, as part of a night of movies featuring British actress Valerie Hobson. I had not seen the movie before, so I couldn't recommend it, but was favorably impressed with it. Thankfully, The Rocking Horse Winner has been released to DVD, so I can recommend it now.

The aforementioned Hobson plays the mother in a British middle class family in the years immediately following World War II. (The movie was released in 1949.) The family is living beyond its means, mostly due to her overspending, and it's causing the sorts of strains that family overspending usually does. Mom and Dad are constantly bickering, and the oldest kid, who is old enough to understand that something is wrong, worries, although he doesn't want to let his parents know this.

Things change one Christmas when the kid gets a rocking horse for the holiday. It seems as if the horse is whispering to the boy, and one of the efects that this has on him is that he rides it very feverishly. At the same time, the family's handyman (John Mills) lets on to the boy that he likes to bet on the horses, and so our kid wants to bet on the horses in order to win some much needed money for his profligate mother. After a while, the boy, the handyman, and the boy's uncle discover that the boy has a seeming knack for picking winners. However, that's not entirely a good thing....

The Rocking Horse Winner is a pretty good and interesting movie. It's notably dark where it needs to be, but also quite evocative of post-war Britain. There are a lot of little movies like this that were made in the UK in the late 1940s and early 1950s, before the advent of the New Wave, and for the most part they're not very well-known on this side of the Atlantic. Granted, I'm sure that there were some stinkers made over in the UK -- after all, there are a lot of pretty lousy B movies made in the States in those days. But movies like The Rocking Horse Winner, or the previously-recommended The October Man, are up there with some of the better American movies. The one big difference is that the British studios couldn't get the budgets they had in Hollywood, so the production values look more like a Hollywood B movie at times than one of MGM's prestige movies. Don't let that take away from the movie, however; The Rocking Horse Winner is well worth seeing.

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