Friday Flicks: ‘International Velvet’

Last week, Amanda Ronan reviewed the ultimate rags-to-riches eventing movie, Sylvester. Today she tackles another improbably narrative of three-day glory, International Velvet.

From Amanda:

Round Two of my “Rolex Ready” movie line-up brings us to International Velvet (1978) starring Tatum O’Neal, Christopher Plummer and Anthony Hopkins.

This movie is a sequel to National Velvet, although much imagination is needed considering National Velvet was set in the 1920s starring Elizabeth Taylor. Velvet Brown and the Pie aged very, very well over the past 50 odd years… not to mention the fact that Pie changed from a chestnut gelding to a bay stallion.

Clones maybe?

Anyway, the movie opens with the infamous Velvet Brown awaiting the arrival of her estranged niece, Sarah, at the airport. Sarah is a real ray of sunshine, not that anyone can blame her. Her parents died in a car crash, she was moved halfway around the world to live with a once famous aunt she barely knows, she had to give away her dog, and the kids at her new school scare her with a “dead GI’s finger all the way from Vietnam.”

All heck breaks loose when Sarah decides to go for a bareback ride on the Pie. Velvet slaps Sarah and then proceeds to tear her a new one. You’d think if she is so protective of her horse she’d keep him behind more than a few strands of rickety barbwire. Geesh.

Eventually Velvet and Sarah learn to tolerate each other. Meanwhile, a mystical horse is born, the Pie’s last foal. Sarah falls in love and begins saving her money so that she can buy the colt she’s already dubbed Arizona Pie. After she’s saved enough money, Sarah and the foal run into each other’s arms as bad elevator music echoes in the background.

The bad elevator music continues as Sarah and the foal grow up together, training on the beach and in the snow. Sarah and Arizona catch the eye of Captain Johnson, Olympic selector, at a jumping competition. Then they randomly get harassed by local idiots driving a mini cooper.

Next, we’re guided through the trials and tribulations of Sarah’s not-so-love life. Allen and all the other potential suitors are left “baffled” according to Velvet. Finally, Sarah gets the attention she wants when Captain J.R. Johnson writes to her giving her the chance to train for the British Equestrian team. Captain Johnson basically teaches; “If you fail me I will eat you Hannibal Lecter style. Oh and make sure your guardians have lots of money.”

The first horse trial, Ledyard, sends Sarah and the team across the pond to the “colonies.”

During some turbulence Roger Peacock’s horse freaks out!

Then after trying a tranquilizer with no success, Anthony Hopkins freaks out! Then they shoot the horse! What in the?!?!?!? Can you even shoot a gun on a plane?

Moving on…

Roger Peacock switches to ride Arizona in the trial and manages to “get around.” At this point in the movie we get to see some great riding from real riders, including Tad Coffin on the great Bally Cor.

Meanwhile, Sarah puts on a frock and dances with American team captain, Scott Saunders. Sarah and her team leave the trial defeated but knowing their weaknesses, which were many, and their strengths, which were few. Sarah goes home to her aunt’s house for a few days and complains about needing a new saddle. Her and Velvet get in yet another screaming match. Despite the old, deficient saddle, Sarah and Arizona Pie are chosen for the Olympic team.

Sarah (in reference to the Olympics): “I know we’ll be good. There isn’t any question. Why shouldn’t we be?” Which pretty much sums up Sarah’s attitude throughout the film. Let’s face it… this girl is one of those snotty brats who has it all and thinks she needs more. I mean she placed 4th at Badminton and she can’t ride unless she gets a new saddle! But let us carry on and watch some horseriding….

…if only we could see past this flippin’ flag they decided to put the camera behind! Sarah finishes “well up in the middle of the order” after her round.

The cross country portion of the movie is awesome… mostly because it has nothing to do with the movie. There is about ten minutes of great riding again from real riders. Unfortunately, we have to get back to the plot line and Sarah heads out on course with the odds stacked against her. Roger Peacock, British team captain, has withdrawn and Sarah is Britain’s last chance.

Sarah and Arizona Pie clear the first half of the course in good time but then she’s down!

My “one fall and you’re out” mindset was taken for a loop when she gets back on! She finishes the cross country course, makes her weigh in and then collapses on the ground in tears. Sarah has dislocated her shoulder but nothing is broken. The doctor, Chef D’equipe Johnson and Aunt Velvet believe that Sarah shouldn’t compete in the trial’s final phase, show jumping, with her injured shoulder.

You’ll just have to watch and see what happens!

This movie was in…cred……..ib……l…….y slow. The acting in my opinion was terrible. Even Anthony Hopkins pulled out an uncharacteristically bad performance, despite some great oneliners like “horses are only marginally less stupid than some of the people who ride them.” The soundtrack consisted entirely of bad seventies era elevator music. The dramatic moments were too dramatic and almost always accompanied by a slow, awkward pan-in from the camera so that we could stare deeply into the character’s eyes as they spewed out their problems via dry monologue. This movie also didn’t have one of those uplifting/underdog themes we all hope for.

Sarah was a spoiled brat who got everything she wanted the moment she wanted it. Where’s the hardship? Where’s the struggle? Where’s the well earned victory over insurmountable odds?

But the good parts of the movie…mostly the horsey parts that had absolutely nothing to do with the plot or characters…were GREAT! It’s always fun to watch footage from different decades to see how the sport has changed and evolved, and how the riding styles and event formats were so different. The English seaside training areas were also amazingly beautiful. So for that…I give International Velvet 2 out of 4 Golden Horseshoes.

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