The Rocking Horse Winner

"Excellent"

The Rocking Horse Winner Review


The Rocking Horse Winner - based on a D.H. Lawrence short story - is a little like a long British version of The Twilight Zone. Directed in 1949 by the almost completely unknown director Anthony Pelissier, the film is about a boy named Paul (John Howard Davies) who gets a rocking horse for Christmas, which gets him excited about horse racing. At the same time seemingly unrelated events begin to unfold: The boy's mother (Valerie Hobson) begins to display wanton materialism and a drive for money, which in turn begins to literally pervade the house in the form of reverberating voices which call for there to be more cash.

When Paul hears the phantom-like voice ringing through his room it is like a clarion call to action. He gets atop his rocking horse and begins to ride. The second voice he hears - when he feverishly rides his rocking horse - is one that tells him which horse will win at the local racetrack. (It's all very peculiar to be sure, but don't most good stories ask for improbable suspensions of disbelief?)

At first this business of picking the horse race winner is merely a game that the boy and the friendly local handyman named Bassett (John Mills) play. They earn a little money, which Bassett keeps for the boy, who hopes some day to give it to his mother. Soon his rich uncle Oscar (Ronald Squire) joins in to play the game with them, the stakes get higher and he begins to distribute the money they win to Paul's mother via a lawyer. Before long the boy's excitement turns to agitation as he rides harder and faster in order to hear the chilling omens and get as much money as he can. But his mother - who is unaware of where the money is coming from - just keeps spending the cash as quickly as he wins it.

The film moves along quickly and is engrossing mainly because of the compelling story. But it is also well acted, directed, and written. Adding drama to the film is the beautiful black and white cinematography by Desmond Dickinson, which runs the visual gamut from slick chiaroscuro horror to velvety Hollywood drama.

Unlike children's films today which seek to lecture us and give us a tacked on happy ending, The Rocking Horse Winner leads to heart-rending consequences and make us consider a mother/child relationship that's full of neglect. But unlike many horror films of today, it doesn't have a sense of dread to it either. There is a respectable theatrical veneer to the whole thing.

The extras on the DVD make this the definitive The Rocking Horse Winner package. It features many of the story's diverse adaptations. There is a short 20 minute film of the same name by Michael Almereyda (who directed Hamlet and Nadja), which was shot in PXLvision (A Fisher Price toy that makes cool B&W images and which Almereyda seems to love), an excellent radio production read by John Shea, excerpts from a chamber opera, and a 24-page booklet, which includes a reprint of the short story itself.

If you attend cocktail parties and like to brag about your knowledge of rare 1940s British films, then this DVD from Home Vision Entertainment is a must. If not then it's still worth a look.



The Rocking Horse Winner

Facts and Figures

Run time: 91 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 30th November 1949

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Fresh: 5 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Hester Grahame, as Paul Grahame, as Oscar Cresswell, as Bassett, Hugh Sinclair as Richard Grahame, Charles Goldner as Mr. Tsaldouris, Susan Richards as nannie, Cyril Smith as bailiff

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