on 2 May 2010
I won't duplicate the synopsis that Westley has already provided, but I would add don't be mislead by the title of this film, nor by the fact that it stars Britain's leading child star of the time, John Howard Davies (only ten years old when he made the film in 1949). This is definitely not a kid's picture. In fact, watching this would give some sensitive children nightmares for years. Given an "A" certificate by the BBFC (the most adult rating they could have given it at the time) it may well have been rated "X" if it had been released three years later. Also don't be mislead by the cheery opening, for the film soon develops into a compelling and haunting supernatural drama that plays like a missing segment out of "Dead Of Night", except that rather than having a haunted mirror or a haunted ventriloquist's dummy, we have here a haunted rocking horse and a boy who rides it becoming inextricably possessed by something unexplainably evil and soul-consuming. To give any more of the plot away would be unfair to those who haven't seen it. But this is a wonderfully made and very moving and emotionally involving British classic that I cannot recommend highly enough. Everything about it is top class...acting; script; direction; photography and music...and the most evil looking rocking horse in film history. Faithfully adapted from the famous short story by D. H. Lawrence, this is a film that will haunt you for the rest of your life and will have you in tears before the end.
on 17 March 2004
"The Rocking Horse Winner" is adapted from the out-of-print short story by D. H. Lawrence. An upper-middle class family in post-war Britain is strapped for cash and continually spending beyond their means. The mother is played by Valerie Hobson, who starred as Estella a few years earlier in the extraordinary adaptation of David Lean's "Great Expectations." She is impatient with her husband's relatively low wages and wishes continually for more funds, seemingly not caring about the source of the money. Her young son (John Howard Davies, who later produced "Fawlty Towers") hears her pleas and soon is betting on horse racing with the help of their gardener, Bassett (played by the peerless Sir John Mills). Surprisingly, the boy seems to be rather lucky and begins to win, but complications soon arise.
The "Rocking Horse Winner" is not particularly well-known, and it definitely deserves a larger audience. The film is highly enjoyable and unpredictable, with some unexpected eerie and sinister elements. The acting is generally good and somewhat larger than life, although Valerie Hobson portrays the mother in perhaps too unsympathetic a light. A highlight of the film is the demonic rocking horse that the boy receives for Christmas; the scenes with the boy riding it into a frenzy are frighteningly unforgettable, and perhaps more than a bit oedipal in nature. The DVD transfer is quite good, although no subtitles have been recorded - a shame considering the sometimes thick accents of some of the actors. Overall, the "Rocking Horse Winner" is a champion - an unusual, small British film that should be much better known.
Extras: Three different versions of "Rocking Horse Winner" are included. The most interesting is a 22 minute short film by Michael Almereyda, who later directed the 2000 movie "Hamlet" starring Ethan Hawke. The short is set in the present and stars Eric Stoltz. Filmed in a grainy manner with pixelation used throughout, it's interesting but the acting is often poor and the story is disjointed. The two other versions are audio-only: a reading taken from public radio and excerpts from a libretto opera. Highly unusual extras!
I can't remember when or where I first saw this film, but I was fairly young and the memory of it has stayed with me. I have been waiting a long time for it to be made available on DVD and it was certainly worth the wait. The story is simple enough; a middle-class family in need of money and a young boy with a rocking horse who finds he can pick winners. It could be the plot for an Ealing comedy, but this is dark with a theme of innocence exploited and the insatiable need to live up to some sort of standard that will baulk at nothing, not bullying, nor shame to maintain it. It is also about luck and the insouciance that seems to draw it - a kind of innocence, that is lost when demands are put upon it. Needless to say, the price for good fortune is greater than any gain and the story takes on something of the morality of a fairy tale; opportunity wasted along with all that is good. This is a film, once watched, will not be easily forgotten and the tensions that build up in it are truly emotional; acting is good as is the staging and lighting - a masterpiece of British cinema and not to be missed.
The Rocking Horse Winner is directed by Anthony Pelissier, who also adapts the screenplay from the D. H. Lawrence short story of the same name. It stars Valerie Hobson, John Howard Davies, Ronald Squire, John Mills, Hugh Sinclair and Susan Richards. Music is by William Alwyn and cinematography by Desmond Dickinson.
Dreadful, Evil Money.
There's a handful of British films from the 1940s that deserve to be far better known, films that blended haunted themes with film noir traits and visual smarts. The Night Has Eyes, Uncle Silas, Corridor Of Mirrors and the magnificent Queen Of Spades readily come to mind. Now it has an official DVD release, we can add Anthony Pelissier's brilliant The Rocking Horse Winner to the obscure gem list.
Story has young Paul Grahame (Davies) receiving a weird looking Rocking Horse for Christmas. He's an introverted and sensitive lad, seemingly reaching out for some sort of guidance from his parents. Unfortunately his mother, Hester (Hobson), is a spendthrift badly hung up on money as some sort of status symbol, while his father, Richard (Sinclair), is a gambler, and not a good one at that. With Uncle Oscar Creswell (Squire) bailing them out of financial trouble for the last time, the Grahame family are heading for bankruptcy unless income can be found. Befriending the new handyman, Bassett (Mills), Paul is delighted to find that Bassett is an ex-jockey and regales him with tails of horse racing, he even learns from Bassett how to ride his Rocking Horse like a real jockey. Then something magical happens, Paul seems to be able to predict the winners of real horse races, and the money starts to roll in...
D. H. Lawrence's story gets a faithful adaptation and transfers quite excellently to the screen. It's a haunting fantasy at heart, but one tinged with utter sadness, and being Lawrence it has a sex metaphor sitting right in the middle of the greed and exploitation thematics. As story progresses, it soon becomes evident that Paul has to ride his Rocking Horse to a frenzied climax, if he doesn't get there then he will not see the name of the next race winner. Initially he is thrilled to be able to win lots of money, the house seems to be telling him that his parents must have more money, so aided by Bassett, he is saving the cash to help his frantic mother, who by now has resorted to pawning possessions for cash. But the more he wins, and the more Bassett and Uncle Oscar also profit, the further away from his parents Paul gets. Soon enough it's going to come to a head and it will prove to be devastating for the Grahame family.
Pelissier, Alwyn and Dickinson each work respective wonders to smoother the picture with a sense of the unearthly, not so much supernatural, but like a blurry discord, a purgatory where ignorant parenting dwells and childhood innocence is corrupted. Pic is crammed with sinister imagery. The Rocking Horse itself is up in the attic, which gives the makers perfect opportunities for shadows to enhance the "unhealthy" scenes of Paul riding away like a boy possessed, while for the key scene Pelissier uses a depth perception technique that is gloriously disorientating. An ascent by Paul up to the attic is moody magnificence, Hester's visit to the back room Pawnbroker (Charles Goldner) drips with unease, while the finale features a near demonic last shot that literally will be burned into your soul.
With top performances from the cast to seal the deal, this tale of a boy and his Rocking Horse gnaws away at the senses as the fallibility of the human condition is frighteningly laid bare. 9/10
on 18 February 2012
I saw this film with my wife a very long time ago and i thought then it was a very good film and that was before we had videos or dvd recorders so we had to wait for it to shown again to see it again,now we have it in our collection,great film would recommend.