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INTERNATIONAL VELVET

        

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: One of my earliest movie reviews at the Deseret News was for ‘International Velvet,’ a 35-years-later follow-up to a genuine classic from the War Years, ‘National Velvet.’ I gushed a bit too much but the film remains enjoyable and must have a following because Warner Archive has re-issued it on DVD. (It’s also notable for an early performance by Anthony Hopkins, well before Hannibal Lecter came along.) My review was published on July 11, 1978.

 

Though writer-producer-director Bryan Forbes protests that “International Velvet” is either a sequel nor a remake — it is both!

 

It suffers from the “Jaws 2” syndrome — if you can’t come up with a new storyline, repeat the old one in an updated form — but is a lovely film and, except for one or two gratuitous indulgences, it should be rated G; the whole family will love it.

 

The earlier film is, of course, “National Velvet,” with Elizabeth Taylor as Velvet, who wins an equestrian steeplechase event but is disqualified in the end because she’s a girl.

 

Here, Tatum O’Neal plays her niece, Sarah (whose middle name is Velvet). She has been raised in the United States but is taken in by her aunt in England after her parents are killed in an automobile accident. Naturally, Sarah will bond with a horse and a steeplechase event will follow.

 

        

 

             Tatum O'Neal, 'International Velvet' (1978)

 

O’Neal is nothing short of incredible in her acting range. Her character is 11 when the film begins, 28 when it concludes and her performance is flawless. (She won a supporting Oscar for “Paper Moon” and this is sure to win her a best actress nomination next year.)

 

She begins in her familiar young-brat form, although she is given better justification here than in “Paper Moon” or “The Bad News Bears,” and perhaps the biggest difference is her vocabulary — nary a serious profanity in the whole two-hour film. She is convincing throughout and a beautiful young woman in the end.

 

Forbes cuts too sharply into the subplot about her growth process, however, and until the final setting it is not clear just how old she has become or what exactly ages we’ve witnessed in between. But Miss O’Neal dishes all the emotions of growing up in perfect form.

 

Nanette Newman (Forbes’ wife) is excellent as Velvet Brown, now 40. Forbes tried to get Liz to pick up where she left off in 1944’s “National Velvet,” but Newman’s role seems Taylor-made for her.

 

        

 

Newman is excellent, and so is Christopher Plummer in the role of her housemate, a writer. They have lived together for several years but he is afraid of “permanence” and won’t marry her. This is obviously an unnecessary updating; Forbes could just as easily had them be a married couple. But Plummer is very good, low-key and with a genial sense of humor that provides many laughs.

 

The show is practically stolen, however, by Anthony Hopkins whenever he is on the screen as Miss O’Neal’s trainer (for the horse-jumping British Olympics team, of course). Hopkins is one of Britain’s acting geniuses and his, too, is a very humorous role but with much more depth.

 

Aside from a couple of soft sex jokes, the PG rating must be due to a totally unnecessarily grisly car crash which kills three teenage ruffians. The strange thing is that it seems so out of place in an otherwise gentle, loving picture that romanticizes life.

 

Although there are two scenes in which the music seems to be left over from a bad James Bond movie, the score by Francis Lai (“A Man and a Woman”) is generally very good listening.

 

And the cinematography is superb; if it doesn’t make you want to hop a plane to England you must be allergic to green.

 

Guaranteed to make you laugh, cry and cheer, “International Velvet” is wonderful summer fare and will leave you feeling good.